§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Chancellor (on behalf of the Lord Shackleton) namely, That this House gives general approval to the proposals for the Reform of the House of Lords as set out in the White Paper House of Lords Reform (Cmnd. 3799).
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, we are now nearly, but not quite, halfway through this very long debate on the reform of your Lordships' House. We have heard views expressed on almost every aspect of the White Paper and, with a few notable exceptions, I think that your Lordships have been commendably brief. 849 Not unnaturally, a large number of speeches have concentrated on the abolition of the hereditary principle in this House. I shall have a word to say on that a little later. We have listened to a number of excellent speeches, and I have had some difficulty in deciding which to refer to. It I were to comment on all those on which I should like to say something I fear that I should far exceed the time which I believe the opener on the second day of a three-day debate should take, and I will confine myself to saying how much I enjoyed the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Denham. My only regret is that I cannot go all the way with him.
For myself, I welcome the White Paper in, as the Motion says, general terms. I think that it can be called the first real break-through since 1911 towards a workable reformed House. Like many of your Lordships, I regret the passing of the hereditary Peer, but personally I fully accept that, in this day and age, a seat and vote purely on grounds of heredity are not acceptable to the country as a whole. On the other hand, I hope that the noble Lords opposite can give me an assurance that just because someone inherits a Peerage, he will not, when life Peerages are being considered, be looked upon any less favourably than a commoner. Noble Lords laugh, but this is by no means an impossibility. I believe that, with reasonable good will on all sides, these proposals can be made to work. There is no doubt that the All-Party Conference achieved a remarkable degree of success.
We are asked to give "general approval" to the proposals in the White Paper. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, or the noble Lord the Leader of the House, will be able to assure us that the Government are not in any way finally committed on every detail in this White Paper. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said yesterday that the Government will listen carefully to all the arguments which are put forward in this House. I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept Amendments to the Bill, when it is produced, if they are satisfied that the original plan can be made better.
A lot was said yesterday on the subject of subordinate legislation. I fully 850 accept the difficulty, from any Government's point of view, of having this House delay subordinate legislation which is of a really urgent character, and I note that the Conference thought that further consideration should be given to this question. At the same time, if this House is to have no check at all, then it seems to me that the danger of an unscrupulous Government using subordinate legislation for the purpose of avoiding ordinary public legislation is quite considerable. Would it really have been right for a highly controversial Order, such as that dealing with Stansted Airport, to come into force without this House having any power to delay it?
May I make a suggestion for the consideration of the proposed Joint Select Committee: that power should be given to Mr. Speaker to satisfy himself that an Order is of an urgent character, and that once a certificate is granted this House should have no powers of delaying that particular Order, other than the powers proposed in paragraph 57 of the White Paper, which enable this House to require another place to reconsider an Order? Without that certificate, is there any excuse for not being able to delay an Order for a period of up to, say, six months? It would be for the Government of the day to make a case to Mr. Speaker that this or that Order was urgently required. Undoubtedly, there would be borderline cases, but it is surely better that a few of those should fall on the wrong side of the fence than that we should have no power at all of delaying subordinate legislation. It would obviously be necessary to write into the Bill a definition of "urgent", which might not be too easy to define. But I have great faith in the ingenuity of Government draftsmen and I think that could be done.
I now come to my main criticism of the proposals in the White Paper, which is concerned with what was originally proposed in the early discussions in your Lordships' House. I refer to what is called the two-writ system, which has now, in fact, appeared as a one-writ system. Under these proposals, every created Peer will have the option of exercising his right to vote, and if he should forgo that right he will have an equal right at the beginning of the next Parliament of taking up that option again. 851 It is that option which causes me grave concern, for if the standard of debate in this Chamber is to be maintained there must obviously be a large number of Peers who come to speak only Occasionally on their particular subjects and who will therefore almost certainly have renounced their voting rights for that current Parliament. Thereafter they will all have the undisputed right to exercise their vote in the next Parliament should they so desire.
Noble Lords opposite may well say that a large majority of those who have opted out in one Parliament will doubtless opt out in the next one. But if in the next Parliament the winning Party had got in on either an extremely Right Wing programme or an extremely Left Wing programme, a considerable number of those who had forgone their right to vote might well feel that in those circumstances they must concentrate on your Lordships' House and exercise their right to vote. The result might be that, instead of a new Government's having to top up their numbers with possibly 20 or 30 creations, they might find themselves in the position of having to make perhaps 150 new Peers.
To my mind, this is creating a new form of backwoodsman. In the past we have heard a great deal about the menace of the backwoodsman from this side of the House. Your Lordships may say that that menance has not materialised, but it is a very real fear to be found among the supporters of the Government. Why, therefore, should we create a new form of backwoodsman? I thought one of the objects of this reform was to get away from the great anomalies, and, surely, one of the anomalies has been the so-called backwoodsman. Therefore, why should we make some more? Would it not be in the interests of the House, of the Government of the day and of everybody that there should be a limit to the number of Peers entitled to vote in any particular Parliament, and that that should be known beforehand? Why should a Peer not be granted either a speaking writ or a voting writ? If he was in receipt of the former, then he would have no option to receive a voting writ. But if he had been granted a voting writ and renounced his right to vote, he would then receive a speaking writ 852 and, again, in my opinion, should have no right to opt back into becoming a voting Peer. That does not in any way mean that those in receipt of the speaking writ could not at some other stage be given again, or for the first time, a voting writ.
It may be argued that all Peers in the reformed House must have the same rights; in fact, it was argued yesterday. But does this really bear close examination? During the lifetime of any particular Parliament, those who have renounced their voting rights and those who have passed the age of being able to exercise their voting rights cannot be said to be equal to those who are exercising those rights. Equally, those Peers who will continue to sit here through succession during their lifetime cannot be said to be equal to those who have the voting right. If we have a two-writ system, I can see no reason for in any way limiting the number of speaking Peers. Therefore, not only can we have an unlimited number of experts, who will come only occasionally but will give us great advice when they do come; but, further, we might even enjoy some refreshing advice from young persons. It seems to me that there is the danger in the one-writ system, that a Prime Minister may be chary of creating a number of Peers who agree to renounce their voting rights, for fear that they may opt in again at some later stage.
While, therefore, I accept that there is a really worthwhile scheme in this White Paper, I think we should all now strive to obtain the best possible solution. Let us all remember that if we can produce something which is not only workable but will also give the country a feeling of safeguard, then we can well be creating a Second Chamber that will endure for many years to come. The main burden of giving the country the best possible House lies with the Government, but every Member of this House also has a share in that responsibility. So let us all strive together to produce a House of which we can be really proud.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (LORD SHEPHERD)
My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl that it would 853 be quite impossible, particularly when one takes into account the large number of noble Lords who wish to speak, to attempt to deal with the many points which were made yesterday. Therefore, I shall try to direct the attention of your Lordships' House to the main, crucial points of the White Paper and the issue that will confront the House tomorrow evening. I am glad to intervene in this debate for, if my memory serves me aright, I wrote the first paper that led directly to this White Paper. I did so on the instructions of my noble friend Lord Longford, who was then the Leader of the House.
We approached our task not in a spirit of vindictiveness, nor on the basis of change for the sake of change. We believed that reform was necessary in the interests of Parliament; that it should be so timed that in all respects the reform should be well thought out; and that if there was a chance to obtain a wide measure of agreement we should obtain it. My Lords, I think we were proved right. For the first time, the political Leaders of three Parties have been able to sit down and, over many long months, have been able to arrive at a general agreement on reform, both on powers and on composition; and, the Leaders having reached their agreement, it is now for Parliament itself to decide.
My noble friend Lord Silkin raised the important question: why is reform necessary? Every one of us knows that the power of the Executive grows. I believe it will continue to grow, and I think it is clear to all of us that the machinery of Parliament is inadequate to cope with this increased power. That is why Appendix II of the White Paper, dealing with "Possible changes in functions and procedure", is so important. But none of these changes, nor any of the others that may be considered, is possible without a reform of your Lordships' House. I would invite the House to read paragraph 4 of the White Paper, and in particular the words:… the reform should therefore be directed towards promoting the more efficient working of Parliament as a whole; …I do not think that anyone would deny that it is in the vital interests of Parliament and the country that there should be a major reform, not only of your Lordships' House but of Parliament itself.
854 It may be stated, as it was with great force yesterday, that this House has worked well; but few noble Lords suggested yesterday how its role could be used to a better advantage. In my view its present powers and composition prevent it from being used more efficiently and from playing a real role in Parliament. No Government, Conservative or Labour, will initiate major legislation in this House, for the simple reason that they do not know what your Lordships will do about it; and, as a consequence, legislation that could well have started here reaches us only in the summer and usually we have little time to consider it. I think most noble Lords will consider that we do not pay sufficient attention to legislation because of time.
My Lords, it is true that we have avoided conflict with another place. In some respects this is a credit to this House. But I know from my father, who was Government Chief Whip in the 1945–51 Labour Government, how the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, then leading the Conservative Peers, was required to exert all his undoubted influence to ensure an arrangement by which Labour legislation was not mutilated or obstructed. The House was served with great distinction by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, as Leader of the House; and these two Leaders, with their two Chief Whips, created what most people regard today as an acceptable role for this House. Since 1964 the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, have sought to maintain that role. The House may take credit, but I am bound to say from my experience of being Chief Whip both in Opposition and in Government that the real credit must lie with the Leaders of the three political Parties and, in particular, with the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn. The noble Earl knows as well as I do how thin was the thread, sometimes, that held us back from a crisis with another place. I can well recall the period when we were discussing prices and incomes, arid when the Liberal Party were dividing on many Amendments late in the Session; and I can well imagine what pressure must have been exerted on noble Lords opposite to get them to abstain from going into the Division Lobbies. I know of many other occasions, too, when the issue was in doubt.
855 But, of course, a Labour Government could correct the position without reform. The White Paper speaks of a permanent Conservative majority. There need not be a permanent Conservative majority in an unreformed House. We could create sufficient Labour Life Peers to give the Government a majority in this House. But if we had done that we would have made a mockery of this House because of its sheer size—and, heaven forbid! its potential size is already too great. So, my Lords, we have lived with an uneasy situation, with the Government dependent largely upon the grace of the Opposition and with the Opposition, I believe, unable to fulfil its natural aspirations. I do not believe that this can be healthy for Parliament, and in such a situation the House could not be expected to retain the respect of the nation or even of its Members. The virtue of this White Paper is that it represents the broad agreement of the representatives of the three political Parties. I do not believe that the Parties would have entered into discussions merely for the sake of change. They believed that reform was due, and were prepared to bring about reform before any crisis came upon us. If a crisis were to some upon us, clearly we should not be able to consider rationally or properly what reform should be undertaken.
Tomorrow the House will be asked to give general approval to the White Paper. I fully understand that some parts of the White Paper raise difficulties. If the Inter-Party Conference had to have any chance of success, then compromise was necessary. The Government have conceded some of their intentions, and so have the Conservative and Liberal Parties. Each one of us may have reservations. We have not gone as far as my noble friend Lord Mitchison would like us to go. On the other hand, the proposals go too far for some noble Lords on the opposite side of the House. But the main question is: do these proposals, taken as a whole, create a new Second Chamber that can perform its present role and provide a base for the reform of Parliament as a whole? Let us take the role of acting as a check on the Executive. I think that perhaps too much play is made of the need for this House to check the other place or the Executive. The White Paper provides that the Government of the day will not have a 856 majority in the House. If challenged by the combined Opposition, the Government would need to hold the votes of the Cross-Benchers, and the Opposition would need to obtain the support of the Cross-Benchers if they wished to defeat the Government. If, as it was suggested yesterday, a Government were seeking to create a unicameral basis of Parliament surely they would not have proceeded in this way. That was not the intention of this Government; nor was it the intention of the Inter-Party Conference.
A question was raised about the reduction in the powers of your Lordships' House. It may be asked why the House, if it is reformed, should have this reduction. There are two reasons. In the first place, the reformed House is to be a nominated House, with the Government having no majority. It follows that the Lords' present equal powers on subordinate legislation must be reduced, and more appropriate provisions substituted for their present powers on Public Bills. The proper role of a non-elected Chamber, I think, is not to say "No" to the other place, which is elected, but to say, "Think again"; and as I understand it that is the general view of noble Lords opposite.
Secondly, it must be anticipated that a reformed House will use its powers in a way in which the House at present would not use them. They must, therefore, be of a kind whose use would not cause the frustrations and delays which would follow from the use of the Lords' powers at present. To-day, the House has powers which it would not exercise for fear of a crisis with another place. The White Paper would give new powers. But these are powers which I believe to be in line with the general philosophy of the House: that the Commons should be given a further opportunity to think. There was a point raised in regard to the extension of Parliamentary life. I would refer the House to paragraph 56 of the White Paper which clearly shows that the 1911 Parliament Act will not be changed in any respect.
My Lords, the two-tier system is unique. It gives us an opportunity of having a hard core of legislators—Peers who will be willing to come to this House to examine legislation. But it will also provide a platform from which eminent 857 persons may speak to the nation. They will speak in Parliament and the Government will have to reply. But, by the very nature of their work or professions, many of these eminent persons may be unable to undertake the work or to devote the time that will be required to be spent on legislation. It was suggested yesterday that this type of Peer would be a "second-class Peer". I do not know how one should regard the noble Lord, Lord James, or the noble Lord, Lord Butler, both very busy professional men in the field of education; and there may be others, like the noble Lord, Lord Todd, or even the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, who may not be able to attend or to meet the requirements of the White Paper. Is it conceivable that any of the noble Lords whose names I have mentioned would be regarded as "second-class" in this House? In the end, the speaking Peers will be judged as they ought to be judged: on the quality and wisdom that they bring to this House and which they put at the disposal of the Government.
My Lords, on the question of hereditary principle I enjoyed very much, as did the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. As an hereditary Peer, I (like the noble Earl) could not agree with what he said. But there was one point that seemed to attract attention. It was that the hereditary principle provides an opportunity of bringing young blood into this House. But I am bound to remind the House of the figures given by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack: that of the hereditary Peers who attend one-third of your Lordships' Sittings, only one was under the age of 30; and again of that number only nine were between the ages of 30 and 40. Therefore, on those figures, to ensure the attendance of 10 young hereritary Peers—no matter how welcome they may be—the potential number of hereditary Peers we should need would be in the order of 736. If new blood, young blood, is to be brought into this House, this I think must be the responsibility of the political Parties. It may be that in the past they have failed, but I hope that in this new House they will think that this should be now dealt with.
My Lords, there is one other point that I should make to the noble Lord, Lord 858 Denham, in regard to the hereditary principle. It is that the source from which these Peers will come will decrease with the years. The old estates, the great wealth, that was once available and which made it possible for Peers to come to this House is fast disappearing. Therefore, the small number that could attend would come from an increasingly narrow basis of our community.
My Lords, I must deal with the question of patronage. This is a real and genuine problem. It was closely examined by the Inter-Party Conference. It has been said that the proposals will result in too great an extension of the Prime Minister's patronage. This extension is greatly exaggerated. Quite apart from the fact that nominations from other political Parties are likely to come from the Parties concerned, there will be two new features which do not exist at present: the Committee which has been proposed to review the composition of the reformed House and the convention on numbers. Something like 80 new creations will probably be needed at the very beginning; but most of that requirement will be met from Peers by succession. Thereafter, it may be that some 50 or 60 new creations will be required with the change of each Government. In 1964, the year of the last change of Government, there were in fact 55 new creations, including those made by the outgoing Administration; and there has been a total of 146 since the beginning of that year.
Another aspect of patronage that has been suggested is that the voting Peers should receive a taxable salary. The Government recognise that, in the context of a nominated House, this proposal is liable to increase the objections about the extent of the Prime Minister's patronage; but the Government believe that here again this criticism has been much exaggerated. There is another side to the coin. I think it would be objectionable if, because of the absence of a modest level of remuneration from any other source, some otherwise suitable potential Member of this House were unable to be appointed. This House is not so rich as to be able to turn away people who have something to offer merely because they cannot afford to come. I think I can tell the House that no particular figure—whether it be £2,000 a year, or some other sum—has been proposed. The 859 question will be referred to an independent body similar to the Lawrence Committee.
My Lords, I now come to the independence of Members. This is something that has exercised the minds of Government and the Committee. We must evolve a system by which a Peer's right to vote, whatever his speaking or voting record, should be secure; that he should have freedom and independence. This is not difficult to achieve. Even though a Peer may be nominated by his Party, he will not necessarily support his Party or his Leader indefinitely; and it must be remembered that Party Leaders are themselves answerable directly to the electorate. Listening to yesterday's debate I found it slightly surprising that some noble Lords believe that it is the hereditary element that brings a truly independent frame of mind to this House. Life Peers and Peers of first creation have exercised great freedom and some on this side of the House have persistently embarrased the Government. I may mention my noble friends Lord Brockway, Lord Silkin, Lord Chorley, and even Lord Balfour, who, if my memory serves me aright, much to the embarrassment of the Government, brought the whole business of the Pipelines Bill to an end because the Government were not ready with the Amendments. Those Peers, Life Peers and Peers of first creation, have exercised great independence. I have not the slightest doubt that in the new House the same feeling of freedom will be available.
The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, spoke about the date of the commencement of this reform. I will leave the answer to that point to my noble friend Lord Shackleton when he replies to-morrow, but I would say to the noble Earl that we all should wish to see our business continue to be conducted with the same degree of flexibility that we now have. Therefore, if we are going to implement the suggestions in the White Paper there should not be a long period between deciding on what should be done and bringing it into practice. We have to consider those noble Lords who will have to make up their minds on whether they wish to become voting or speaking Peers.
860 In conclusion, may I say that the first question the House has to answer tomorrow is this: is reform desirable? I do not think there is any doubt that it is desirable, not only in the interests of this House but also of Parliament. Secondly, looking at the long and frustrating history of the attempts to bring about reform and having got the political Parties to agree, I think that we should not let this opportunity go. It may be that we cannot agree on everything; but if the package is right for this House and for Parliament, I think that we should seize the opportunity.
I am happy to confirm what the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, asked, that the Government will take into account all that has been said in this House and in another place. The purpose of the White Paper and of the debates was that The Government should hear these views. In the end, this is a constitutional change, radical yet revolutionary, and I hope that by what has been said we shall be able to get broad agreement in this House and in another place, so that we may look forward to having a Second Chamber that will play a constructive and major role in the evolution of Parliament in this country.
§ 3.22 p.m.
My Lords, we started yesterday's debate with three Leaders or Deputy Leaders of Parties, and perhaps it is not surprising that we start to-day with three Chief Whips or former Whips or Deputy Whips—all of whom, by the way, speak in this House not by reason of their own merit but because of their ancestors. As befits a Deputy Whip, a great deal of what I shall say will be addressed to my noble friends on these Benches, but as they range from the extreme Centre outwards to the Right and Left, what I have to say to them will be of some use, I hope, to other Members of your Lordships' House. I thought that both the speeches that went before me were good whipping speeches, if I may say so.
I do not propose to cover more than three points. They are points on which I feel there is a danger of the wrong sort of emphasis being put. The first one, which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has already touched upon, is the question of patronage. It is suggested that a new and dangerous patronage is being put 861 into the hands of the Prime Minister. I think that it is entirely the other way round. By this new proposal the Prime Minister's patronage is circumscribed and diminished. In the past, patronage was a corrupt and hole-in-the-corner evil, and in the distant past it was not only a very corrupt evil in its relation to those who were going to be made Peers but also devious in relation to those who ought to have been made Peers but were not. My grandfather's great-grandfather sat on the Woolsack as a commoner because the chief Patron, King George II, did not like him. This was inconvenient and indeed unsuitable. His experience of being disliked by the Patron was far from unique. But under the new arrangement I do not think that that sort of thing is likely to happen to nearly the same extent.
It is not so much a question of watchdogs—and I take the Point that watching watchdogs is sometimes a pretty fruitless operation—but that the new arrangement will not be under cover and that whatever is done will be subject to searching questions. That is what democracy is really about. So, to that extent, I think that this is an admirable suggestion. I do not know how we can water down too much nomination, but I have no doubt that we shall devise means of doing that in the future. After all, this is only a temporary measure. In the meantime, so far as nomination goes, the patronage embodied in it is far more circumscribed and far better than before.
The second point which I would address to my noble friends is on the two-tier system. My noble friend Lady Asquith of Yarnbury feels that the old, the hereditary, the distinguished and the busy who do not come very often to your Lordships' House are going to become political eunuchs and that no man of spirit ought to accent such a proposition. I do not see it that way. I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who was quoted in this context, as an eunuchoid type. I do not see any other of the distinguished Members of the House who do not come here very often in that capacity—least of all the noble and gallant Field Marshal. Influence is power, and surely speech is influence. Whereas my noble friend is worried about being a dumb voter rather than an impotent spouter, I would rather have it the other way round. 862 This is something which I think my noble friends have got wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, pointed out that neither the late Lord Attlee nor Sir Winston Churchill would have been eligible to vote. Would they have been any the less influential for that? I do not think so. Whether they had a vote or not would have been neither here nor there. I myself do not care much about the naked vote. I would rather have the chance to get up and be the spouter, but I hope not altogether impotent.
The third thing on which I want to say something to my noble friends is the proposal that the coming into effect of this scheme should be delayed until a new Parliament meets, when probably we may have a new Administration. Even such a Left Wing character as my noble friend Lord Foot, seems to me here, if I may misquote the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to be moving rapidly and almost dangerously to the Right with the noble Marquess. There is a certain logic in saying that this might be suitably delayed. It might be said that if the Bill passes, the present Prime Minister will have to create something like 80 Peers to get the balance suggested in the White Paper right, and if the Administration were to change a new Prime Minister would then have to redress this balance, so why not leave it over until the new Administration comes in? As I say, I think there is some logic in that, but I do not feel happy about it, and I hope that the Government will not give way on this point. If we get this Bill through this Session, as I and I think most of my noble friends sincerely hope we shall, I trust the Government will not agree to the postponement until another Parliament and possibly another Administration.
I think that part of the reason for having this reform at all is the fear that the House of Lords as at present constituted might interfere seriously with the Government's legislation in the last year of their term. This I believe to be so unlikely as to be virtually impossible. Nevertheless, this is a fear, and this fear has probably motivated the desire for reform. If what has been passed through in this Parliament is postponed to another Parliament, then other fears may be generated, and in my view that would be a pity. So I hope that the Government, having got the Bill through, 863 will not put it into suspended animation for the rest of Parliament.
The White Paper, in my view, is a sensible, workmanlike consensus solution of a problem that has been so difficult that it has not been dealt with for nearly 60 years. During those 60 years the feeling of classic Conservatives, of wanting a strong Second Chamber, and that of the classic Radical, regarding any Second Chamber as useless or mischievous, have, to some extent, narrowed, and now we have before us something which is a consensus of the middle ground. "Consensus" is sometimes regarded as a dirty word, but in fact it is what English politics have been built up on. We have this workmanlike document to be going on with, which I hope will be hammered out into a workmanlike Bill; and I have every hope that the diehards on the Right and the diehards on the Left will leave it be and let it go through.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ LORD BUTLER OF SAFFRON WALDEN
My Lords, if I am short, it will not be out of discourtesy to your Lordships' House; it will rather be out of consideration for the many speakers who are to follow. I have found in my present assignation that a decision to speak shortly has brought me a temporary and transient popularity, and when I resume my seat there is a general sense of relief. I have decided after considerable thought that this scheme should be recommended to your Lordships' House for general approval. Of course, amendments may be made in the course of our discussions, and I shall suggest one or two here; but for the reasons which I shall give I do not think it would be wise to reject this scheme, which, I may say in passing, has been put forward in a very workmanlike and readable White Paper.
My first reason is that I do not think it is possible to continue as we are. It is damaging to our dignity, and also to the British Constitution, that when the Upper House, by a majority, makes a decision, on the instigation of the Opposition, for example, we should know that when it takes this line its judgment will be reversed or else lead to a minor or major political crisis. This situation is contrary to the interests of the Constitution, and 864 I do not think can continue. I am thinking of the long and tedious debates and Amendments to the Transport Bill, some of which I attended. I am thinking of the Amendments to the Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill, which I did not understand, but on which on one occasion I actually defeated the Government. I am thinking of the debate on Rhodesia, which was very heartfelt by many noble Lords on this side of the Chamber, and which also led to a major crisis of its own sort. Therefore I do not think we can go on as we are under the present constitution of the House. The alternative of abolition is absolutely unthinkable. I have always been, all my political life, a believer in the bicameral system, and I believe that this White Paper gives us an opportunity to have a good, practical and working Upper House which we ought to seize while we have the chance.
My second reason is: Are we likely to get a scheme more nearly agreed than this one? I have had many years in politics. I have studied the objections and feelings of the Labour Party in another place. I do not believe that we are likely to get a scheme more easily agreed than this one. I should also like to point out, while I am mentioning the feelings of the Labour Party, that immense sacrifices have been made by my noble friends on the Conservative Benches in your Lordships' House. These sacrifices relate in particular to the sacrifice of the hereditary principle, in which I personally have always believed.
In 1948 I suggested (and the 1948 deliberations are included in this White Paper) that it would be better to have an electoral college for the hereditary Peers (I did not suggest that there should be too many; 100, for example, would have represented the hereditary Peerage, in my view), and I am sorry that this idea no longer prevails. But I am satisfied that in the modern tempo of the world in which we live, the idea included in this White Paper, of nominating hereditary Peers for life, is a better solution than the one I favoured in 1948. Nevertheless, I am sorry about it, because I believe in the hereditary Peerage.
The main reason why I support this White Paper is because I believe in Life Peers. I was responsible, as Leader of the House of Commons, for introducing 865 the Life Peerages Act 1958. In 1964 I myself refused a very distinguished hereditary Peerage because I thought that it was better in the modern age to be a Life Peer; and my family thought so, too.
I should like to give the Government some little consolation. It was extremely difficult to get the 1958 Bill through Parliament. When I rose in my place, and made what I thought was an eloquent speech, I was opposed by no less an orator than Aneurin Bevan. He used the most opprobrious epithets about your Lordships—but, I hasten to say, about your Lordships of ten years ago, and not now. You were "rapacious", "otiose", "out-dated", "idle"— and I regret to say that in the latter part of the debate he actually used the word "lustful". I believe now that all passion is spent. There is no orator to balance "Nye" Bevan in the other place, and I believe there was no orator in my time who was ever his equal when he really got roused. When he had finished speaking, I said to the Chief Whip of the day: "We shall never get this Bill through". But, luckily, as he often did, Nye Bevan lost a certain amount of interest, and we got the Bill through Committee without too much trouble. This is a little solace and comfort to the Government, because they may be having a lot of trouble, but I still think they will get this through.
I believe that Life Peers are now the fashion in the country; and from what I have said of hereditary Peers it will be seen that I have the utmost regard for them and what they have given to our Constitution. I personally agree with the two-tier system. In my view, one of the criticisms of the Upper House since 1910 has been the diffusion of its numbers and the alleged possibility of calling up from alleged backwoods enormous numbers of people who were not interested in the day-to-day business of the House. Therefore, I think that the voting House of your Lordships' House must be compact, and a figure of 230 to 250 seems to me to be sensible.
I should like to take my own case, which has been mentioned already by two speakers this afternoon. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, doing more or less a full-time job; and the problems of young men and young women make that job even more full than it was before, although we have a fairly quiet 866 time where I live. But it is difficult for a person like myself to guarantee to attend one-third of the attendances. When the new scheme comes in, I should like to make a try at it, but I think I should fail to manage to attend one-third. But I should be very happy to have the privilege to speak, although your Lordships might not agree with the latter separation. Nevertheless, I do not think that you can give voting rights to people who cannot guarantee to make a certain degree of attendance, and therefore I would say that I do not regard myself as a "fourpenny stamp". I do regard myself as a normal Member of the Upper House, and I do know that, even with the age limit, it will be possible to go on speaking till Kingdom Come. So your Lordships know what to expect in future.
I had a disagreeable experience when I defeated the Government on the Leasehold Reform Bill—much to my astonishment because I did not understand the Amendment that I had moved. I was handed two batons in order to organise the voting. Being a new Member, I did not understand what to do. I therefore passed them to the Opposition Whips, who were fully aware of what to do on these occasions, and they nobly, with my assistance, defeated the Government. I am quite happy to rest on that for the rest of my life. I feel that that is a sufficient distinction. If I am not able to attend regularly one-third of the Sittings, I should nevertheless be very glad to vote.
My next point is that there has been a certain amount of statement in another place by critics of this plan that it is disgraceful to pay your Lordships—those who, for instance, vote regularly. I would make a plea to the Government that we should not allow payment to be a breaking point. For my own part, I believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, that a certain degree of payment is essential for noble Lords who cannot otherwise come here, and that case is quite understandable. But we should not come here for pay alone. While there should be a system of payment, which this Select Committee is going to look into, do not let us make this a breaking point that some of our critics in another place make it. I should like to say how undignified I find it at present to have to try to remember to apply for £4 14s. 6d. 867 whenever I come up from Cambridge. Fortunately for the Exchequer, I nearly always forget. When I remember, I am challenged by the Accountant as to whether I was really here, and finally I get this miserable amount. If we have a payment system, let us make it more responsible and more dignified than the one we have at present.
Now the great constitutional question arises, my Lords, whether Life Peers should be nominated. I read The Times leader on this subject, which seemed to take a very powerful line. But I do not agree with The Times leader criticising nomination. Nomination is not understood by the general public. It is in fact a system much more careful and likely to be successful than any other in the appointments to your Lordships' House. It is usually done through the usual channels; and one "usual channel" has made a brilliant speech opening the debate this afternoon, and so we ought to feel a certain amount of confidence in the usual channels being employed on both sides of your Lordships' House to assist the Prime Minister of the day in nomination. I believe that you get a very much better selection to your Lordships' House by nomination than by election. I do not believe for a single minute that election would be accepted by another place. Therefore, I believe that election is ruled out.
The Times seems to think that election by regions is a good idea. But I should honestly rather look at some of the faces I see around me this afternoon in your Lordships' House, than on ex-Lord Mayors and other people from the regions who might be elected from the regions. I do not believe that election by the regions will work. I believe that nomination will work, and I would recommend to the future powers who nominate the need to bring younger people into the House, because I know the figures about hereditary young Peers; and that is not enough. I think we want to have a younger element in the Upper House and I hope that nomination will help with that matter as well.
I shall be asked whether I am not frightened of the power of the Prime Minister. I think I have read every word about the power of the Prime 868 Minister from Walter Bagehot to Richard Crossman and Balogh, and I have continually been asked to write about it. In my opinion, when the power of the Prime Minister in this country becomes too strong and becomes an abuse he will be pulled down by the House of Commons. I have seen it happen to Prime Ministers whom I have served in my own day. The House of Commons is like a lake: it is all very well on a calm day, but when it gets excited it can do anything. The waves are greater than the Sea of Galilee. I am convinced that a Prime Minister who abuses his power is going to be pulled down, and if he abuses his power of nomination he is going to be pulled down. Therefore, although this is apparently a difficult constitutional point, my own belief is that nomination, if we examine it closely with a real knowledge of the Constitution, is the only method we can adopt for election to this Upper House.
The only other points I have to make, my Lords, are first of all that I agree with conclusion 73(g) of this White Paper, that the Government should have a small majority over the other Parties but not a majority over the whole House. This was a point made by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe: it is a very important feature of this White Paper, and it is constitutionally sound. The next point I have to put is this. Why should not Life Peers, as Peers of succession are, be entitled under certain conditions to renounce their titles? That point is not included in the White Paper. It is regarded as quite impossible, but I should like to have it considered.
The next point is about powers. I believe in the powers of delay referred to in this White Paper. I believe in the delaying power going over a period in between one Parliament and another, thereby enabling the issue in question to be discussed at a possible General Election. I believe that this increases the power of the Upper House in the new plan, rather than reducing it. I am very sorry about Statutory Instruments. I think it is an abuse, if the Government use a Statutory Instrument, that it cannot be checked and delayed by your Lordships' House. Therefore, I hope that an Amendment in that regard may 869 be able to be made in the course of Committee.
I promised your Lordships that I should be short. I have expressed my opinion as shortly as I can. To sum up, I am a Life Peer myself. I am a believer in the Life Peers principle. I believe that that is accepted in this plan. I should like to see an adequate hereditary nomination as Life Peers; otherwise, I do not think this plan will work. I hope that that will be carried on into the future to the sons of some of the hereditary Peers who sit here, whom I think we must remember to-day. But I would say to your Lordships, in conclusion, that we are not thinking about just our generation or about our autumn session; we are thinking about the immense tradition handed down through the centuries in this House, and the number of centuries we hope this tradition will last. It is because I think this plan gives a chance, with the hereditary element included, of extending that tradition that I have come here to support it this afternoon.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD BURNHAM
My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence on addressing you for the first time. I could have chosen a less controversial subject than the reform of your Lordships' House, but I hope that the aspect of the White Paper to which I want to refer will at least not prove to be controversial on any Party basis. It concerns the proposals for regulating the majority in your Lordships' House. The White Paper recognises that there should be no overall Government majority in a reformed House of Lords. This involves a nice calculation, but the White Paper discounts the suggestion that the balance of power would then rest with the noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches, because—and I quote:They do not possess any sense of corporate identity or act in any way as an organised group, and they resist any tendency to be regarded as such".Of course, this is true, but by inference the White Paper also suggests that these noble Lords have no consistent political views.
It would be presumptuous of me to attempt to analyse the reasons why these noble Lords choose not to be closely involved with Party politics. But it does 870 not follow that as individuals they have no political opinion. I hope I shall give no offence if I suggest that not all the noble Lords on the Cross Benches are absolutely impartial or even absolutely unpredictable. Indeed it is only to be expected that the opinions of most of them will be broadly in agreement with one or other of the Parties represented in this House. I may have some right to say this because until recently I sat on the Cross Benches when I attended in your Lordships' House, and although I have now changed my position my opinions in fact have not changed. So long as the political pattern on the Cross Benches broadly follows the Party representation approved for the House as a whole, the intentions of the White Paper will not be defeated, but I believe that any attempt to achieve this end will place the Committee which is to advise on the composition of the House in an impossible position.
The Committee will have to ask itself, "When is a Cross-Bencher not a Cross-Beneher?"—both when called upon to advise on the initial voting composition of the House, and when considering future additions to the Cross Benches. I cannot believe that it would be acceptable for the Committee to interview noble Lords in order to discover whether they leant to one Party more than to another. It would scarcely be preferable for them to analyse the political views of a noble Lord in his absence, on the basis of his public utterances or his voting record. Indeed, in the future many potential Members of this House, for example distinguished retired civil servants, whose wisdom and experience would be of the greatest value, will, by the very nature of their profession, have avoided public utterances on political matters, though they may in fact have pronounced political views.
Without too great a stretch of imagination one can even foresee an unseemly search by Party organisations outside this House for suitably distinguished crypto-Cross-Benchers, with a view to recommending them as a hidden asset for their own Party. These will be very real practical problems, and I can see no satisfactory way round them if it is really considered essential to maintain a marginal Government majority which is nevertheless not an overall majority in 871 this House. With the greatest respect, I should like to suggest that this is neither essential nor desirable.
We live in a democracy and we are governed in accordance with the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives. It may not be the most efficient form of government but it is certainly the most pleasant to live under. It is, however, inherent in our system that a Government with a working majority in another place may not have a majority in the country, and that a very small swing in the country in the course of a Parliament could produce a working majority for a Government of the other side if an Election were held.
I believe that the White Paper has this very problem in mind in limiting the size of the Government majority in the proposed House of Lords and in making it clear that it must not be an overall majority. However, it has been my impression that both in this Parliament and the last the present balance of Parties in your Lordships' House has worked extremely well in the interests of the country as a whole. The intentions of the Government have not been frustrated by this House, and legislation has been improved. Therefore I suggest that the objects of the White Paper could be better achieved, and the problems of "Cross Bench analysis" would become much less critical if the system were deliberately designed to assure a small but clear majority for the Opposition. I hasten to add that this principle should apply whatever Government was in power. If this seems paradoxical I hope I can convince your Lordships that the principle has many merits.
No noble Lord who is now a Member of this House, and no one who is likely to become a Member of a reformed House, is going to embark on wrecking tactics in the matter of revision of legislation. Whatever their Party affiliations, they will recognise that the elected Government is rightly paramount and they will act responsibly to try to improve whatever legislation is put before them. The ultimate power of the House of Lords to throw out legislation could only be exercised if the House were convinced that the Government no longer had the confidence of the people. Such a decision could be taken only on a matter of vital 872 principle and after the most careful consideration. If the House were proved wrong, the frustration to the country of a six-months' delay would not be very serious, and the House would have learnt that the Government still retained their mandate, and would take that into account in their future actions. If, on the other hand, the view of this House were accepted, the House would have fulfilled its ultimate function as the guardian of the liberties of the people.
Any reform of this House which increases its effectiveness and establishes confidence in the country in the Upper House will have my support. Despite all the political fireworks, there is in this country a wide consensus of opinion, which is a blessing of which we should take every advantage in amending our Constitution. A system which preserves a balance and restrains excesses is the one most likely to commend itself to the people.
In the particular matter of the balance between Government and Opposition in your Lordships' House, I believe that under the present Government we have by accident reached nearly the right solution. Therefore, in conclusion I should like to ask that the problem of the reform of this House should be given further consideration by all Parties, and that the small suggestion which I have tried to put forward should also be taken into account.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I know that the whole House will wish me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, who has just spoken in such a delightful and reflective manner. I am sure he will not mind my recalling that his father and mine served together at Gallipoli on what Winston Churchill called "The Battlefield of Fog and Flame". They braved the same hazards. My father fell, and the noble Lord's father survived to give many years of eminent service to the country. That makes me happy to follow him.
Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to one point—and I intend to follow the excellent example of all previous speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and to be very brief. The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, suggested—seriously, I believe—that it would be 873 highly agreeable for the Opposition to have a majority here. I am not going to follow that suggestion, but there is one disadvantage which may or may not have occurred to him but which has been in my mind. It was possible at the time of the last Conservative Government for someone like Sir Alec Douglas-Home (as he now is) to be Foreign Secretary here, and it would really have been impossible at any time during the present Government for that to happen. We could not have a Foreign Secretary here who would find himself defeated on votes of confidence which echoed round the world. I think the obvious example is make sure that a rather larger number of top Ministers than hitherto can be Members of your Lordships' House, and anyone who was anxious to bring that about (as many of us would be) would hesitate before adopting the proposal put forward by the noble Lord.
I rise to support strongly, and I hope briefly, the proposals in the White Paper so well explained by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor yesterday (and I apologise for my absence in the North), and by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to-day. All those who have taken part in the Inter-Party talks, and particularly those who have endured to the end, deserve the highest credit. The novelist Ouida was not very strong, I believe, on the art of rowing, and she once remarked in one of her novels:All rowed fast, but none rowed faster than stroke".I think we can say of the participants in these discussions that they all worked hard but none worked harder than the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and perhaps none worked quite as hard. He has been nobly supported on the Labour side by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and (for a while) by the noble Lord, Lord Champion; and across the way he has been supported by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers.
So there has been a remarkable team effort, and it is extraordinary to think that after all these years and all the discussions and setbacks as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, wished to emphasise, there is at last agreement. No one would have forecast this a few years ago. People 874 may say that the Parties got fairly close in 1947, but I never thought we were very close at that time so I should like to support strongly what has been said by Lord Shepherd this afternoon. It would be a tragedy if this chance were thrown away, for it is extremely unlikely that in the lifetime of even the youngest Peers there will be a chance as good as this. So if this is thrown out one might say "Goodbye"to any reform of the House of Lords for many years to come.
I am not supporting these proposals only because there is agreement. Personally, like most people here, I consider agreement between the leading members of the Parities and other leading people, and agreement generally in the House, as a tremendous assumption in favour of the scheme; but it is not enough. I would not come to the House and say that whatever has been agreed is good enough for me. I favour these proposals on their intrinsic merits. I think the Lord Chancellor said yesterday—and I am sure it was true about most members of the Parties—that each had made sacrifices; and that would be true of my own Labour Party. For example, the two-tier plan is not something they would have started to fall in love with straight away.
I come to this subject rather differently. The two-writ plan in its original form was invented by Commander Burrows, and I hope that name will be remembered whenever this reform goes through. If ever one man invented a new idea in politics it is Commander Burrows. The object of the plan at that time was to ease the transition, it might be a long transition, while the existing hereditary Peers were still alive. It was to establish the rule of democracy in votes and to treat the existing Peers in a thoroughly civilised way that preserved the continuity, the courtesies and the traditions of the House. I remember advocating that scheme in 1957 and being ridiculed by the Lord Chancellor of the day, a much esteemed man. At any rate, here we are with the two-writ plan. It has now become the two-tier plan and has been developed, apart from details, in a very important sense. Here I give special credit to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, as well as to others. They gave it a further development which I 875 supported while I was still in the Government.
It is no longer intended to be a transitional plan; it is intended to be a permanent and a very desirable feature of this House which makes it possible to combine the two roles of this House—the working House and the House of eminent persons, such as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and others who cannot come here very often. So this additional feature, which is a development of the old two-writ plan and the two-tier plan, is in my opinion entirely welcome and justified.
It may be said that this is a failure to produce any better alternative, so in a sense one might argue that this scheme is going by default. I would not deny that there are those, who may be quite a lot of people, who, whether they say it openly or in their hearts, ask the question: why reform the place at all? One or two people who have come here quite lately are almost ecstatic about this House. They did not believe there was such a heaven on earth which could be discovered by mortal man, or woman either. But, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, this is a Legislature, not a club. As a club, it is undoubtedly the best in the world. I cannot go into all its charms. From that point of view no one could want anything better. But the question does arise: is it able to exert a proper degree of influence in view of the eminence and capacities of all these wonderful people gathered here?
This is a side which has troubled me for years. For the 22 years during which I was on one Front Bench or the other I was trying to persuade myself that what one was doing was of enormous importance. The Press did not pay much attention to it, but then the Press always get their values wrong. It was possible to persuade oneself that the influence of this House was very extensive. While still on the Front Bench some years ago I formed the opinion that the influence of this House on the nation was nothing like it should be—and this is even clearer when I am not able to come to this House very often. When one stands away from the House and asks how much impact it is making, bearing in mind the tremendous display of talents here, one is bound to answer the question in a way that is not very flattering to your Lordships.
876 I therefore see only one method of giving this House its proper degree of influence. I am a two-Chamber man. I want to see this House have a genuine and not just a fictitious influence, not to be just a ceremonial organisation, a facade, but a real thing, something that brings to bear all the talents and these wonderful parts that belong to so many people here. I am sure that, in practice, leaving out Party politics—though this Right-Wing and Left-Wing business comes in a little here—in the modern democratic age a House composed like this will never be allowed by British public opinion to have a proper degree of influence. That is why it is essential to rationalise the composition of the Chamber. Otherwise, people may go on making speeches to each other but the influence will be one quarter of what it could be and should be. To try to give this House a proper degree of influence and make the composition rational. defensible and respectable has been in my thoughts all along. These proposals hold the field and nobody seems able to bring forward any serious rival.
I would add one point from what might be called a radical angle—and not only Labour Party people but others also will probably agree with what I say now. In a democratic age I should have felt that I was failing totally if I had not made some effort to rationalise the composition of this Chamber within the limits of a single person's power. I should have felt that I was betraying my trust if I had not tried to bring the composition of this House into line with what we would accept as a democratic principle to-day.
Finally, my Lords, one word about the hereditary principle. There are not many of us here who would despise the hereditary principle altogether. We accept it; 99 per cent. of the House welcome it in the case of the Monarchy; so when we talk of rejecting the hereditary principle we are not saying that it could not be acceptable anywhere. We would not reject any idea of continuity at all in the economic and other spheres between father and son, so I do not want to come forward as someone who pretends to set aside the hereditary principle altogether. I fortified myself with the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, and even if the noble Marquess 877 is moving fast to the Left I am not sure the noble Earl would claim that for himself. He agrees that to-day the hereditary principle is not an acceptable basis. It cannot be. If it is not acceptable to-day it will become still less acceptable as time goes on, so we must agree that even if the question of one Party dominating the affairs were left out—and that is a strong additional argument—one is still left with the proposition that the hereditary principle must be destroyed as a basis for legislation here; and that is done under these proposals.
Going back to what I said at the beginning about the two-tier idea, I would not consider treating hereditary legislators, people who have given their lives to this House, as though they were quite worthless, or with any sort of disdain. To shoo them out of the place without giving them the chance of further service when they may have abandoned all chance of a life in the House of Commons would not be in accordance, as I see it, with civilised values. Nevertheless, as a basis for voting the hereditary principle has had its day and cannot be contemplated for a moment.
I applaud, and agree very much with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. I think we must give great credit to the Leaders of the Conservative Party for accepting this development, for recognising—even if they have an attachment to the hereditary principle—that it can no longer figure as a basis for voting in one House of Parliament in this country. Great credit attaches to their great statesmanship, and I give them my salute. It does not seem to me that this is a case where one Party has a bargain, or where one has been "sold down the river", or where somebody has stolen a march on somebody else. It is an agreement reached by some of the most careful and genuine and disinterested discussions one could imagine.
I agree with those who say that there are all sorts of problems (some of them have been touched on) which have still to be sorted out, but in principle this is the best answer that has ever been placed before the country as a method of reforming the House of Lords. I repeat, I am sure that if this goes wrong—and I do not believe it will—we shall never see another chance in the lifetime of most 878 of us. I therefore lend strong support to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and those on the Government side, and those elsewhere who support this proposal. I implore noble Lords in this House to give it their most cordial and vehement support.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD ALDINGTON
My Lords, I should like to say to the noble Earl that we must all be grateful for the tributes he paid to our Leaders on this side, but I think it would be wrong to miss the opportunity of paying a tribute to him for the part he has played and for the statesmanlike attitude he has shown to this problem. He will know that I have a strong affection for him, and from time to time differ with him strongly, but in the speech he has just delivered I find myself in almost total agreement with the general motive that has obviously prompted him. I would also join him in congratulating my noble friend Lord Burnham, on what I thought was a model maiden speech. He has one great advantage, which I do not have for the moment, of having a mellifluous voice, which woke me up the other morning on the early-morning radio giving us a foretaste of the views he had on this particular subject.
I want to concentrate my speech on one point only, and that relates to the qualification by attendance required of voting Peers, and to the effect that may have not on those created Peers who will have to decide whether or not thy are voting Peers, but, much more important, on the effectiveness and general acceptance given to the votes of the House. But before I do that, I think I am under an obligation to declare where I stand on the main issues.
First, is reform necessary? I answer that decisively, Yes; and I agree with all that my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden said. Secondly, am I content with the broad framework of the proposals before us? I answer that also, Yes, for the reasons which my noble friend Lord Jellicoe explained to your Lordships yesterday afternoon in his excellent speech. I agree wholehetrtedly with him that we have here an opportunity to build up a really viable Upper House on the basis of a broad consensus of support from all Parties. I recognise, as he did, that there are some weak 879] points in the proposals; for example, the danger of an increase of patronage. But we can overstate that danger. I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Balfour of lnchrye said yesterday, and what my noble friend Lord Butler said to us to-day.
But against this and other weaker points, there is this one point of great strength; the prospect of agreement by the three political Parties which will make it possible to restore the power for good of the reformed Upper House. And I think one should add to that the fact of agreement stated by the leaders of the Government in the other place and in this place, agreement between the Government and Opposition Parties, that when changes are made in the Constitution the Government should always seek to make those changes by agreement.
The delaying powers and the revising powers set out in the White Paper are important, but it is my view that the power to influence public opinion and action is even more important. I do not believe that, as a House, we have that power in any large degree to-day. Some of your Lordships influence public opinion by what you say and wherever you say it. But the House as a whole does not command the respect or influence which it has commanded in the past, and which all of us would like to see it have, however recently we have come here.
The point I want to make concerns the composition of the voting strength of the House. Here we come to the two-tier principle, and I agree with the noble Earl that a tribute must rightly be paid to Commander Burrows. I accept the two-tier system, because of the need to fashion the voting strength broadly as set out in the White Paper. But, as I will say, I do not accept that it is either sensible or necessary to have a rigid system excluding from the voting tier many created Peers, to use the words of the White Paper,with wide interests and experience who can make contributions of high quality, whether in general debate or in legislation, but who because they are actively engaged in employment outside the House cannot easily attendevery day or even regularly once a week. This point is slightly related to the point which has been made by many 880 speakers, that the absence of Peers by succession from the voting House in the immediate future, and from the House as a whole in the longer future, will reduce the number of young men here. I regard the presence of young men not just as desirable, but as essential; and essential not because we want them to do our work for us, but because we want their ideas and their votes in order that, as a House, we may be broadly representative of the pursuit of excellence in the nation as a whole. Without being immodest, I think that is what we should like to think we are. I hope those who have the responsibility of nominating created Peers will bear this point in mind.
Taking the two tiers together, and putting aside the question of young men, the White Paper's proposals certainly seem to aim at that representativeness. But that is clearly not true of the voting or working House, for in paragraph 45 there is the rigid condition of the right to exercise a vote, that a Peer should attend—and I am not quite clear what "attend" means there—not less than one-third of the sittings of the House in each Session. If he does not do that over the whole of the Session then he becomes disqualified during the whole of that Parliament.
My noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn, with all the rest of whose speech I wholly agreed, appeared to want permanent disqualification in that event. At first sight this condition may seem a sensible condition. But is it? Who will be excluded in this way, or who may be excluded? Most of those, surely, who are actively engaged outside in university education, like the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme; most of those actively engaged in the professions; most of those actively engaged in running large enterprises or estates many miles from London; and many of those with regular and active occupation in business.
I think it would be true to say that at present, as in the past, those men come here not only when they can but also when they think they are wanted and can do something useful here. Of course I accept that to qualify for a voting writ a Peer must honourably intend to fulfil his duty as a voting Peer. But is not the right way to proceed to ask of each 881 created Peer whether he wishes to accept the role of voting Peer and then to rely upon his sense of duty? To insist that all these men, as it were, "clock in "on some basis if they are to qualify will be to exclude willing men active in their own callings, men and women who work in the regions away from London. The Bishop of Chester made this point about some of his colleagues yesterday. You will also be excluding just those men and women who do most travelling overseas.
Here let me interpose two things. First, by my emphasis on the words "active engagement outside the House "I am not impugning the activeness of other Peers and Peeresses inside the House. Second, in case any among your Lordships may think I am doing a bit of special pleading for myself, let me just say this. Because I work in London I hope in normal times to be able to do much better than to attend one in three sittings. It so happens that because I have been engaged in two mergers during the last two autumns I have been absent frequently, or more frequently than I should like. Should that happen again I should certainly feel bound as a matter of duty to your Lordships to give up the voting rights if I had obtained them.
No, my Lords: I am not arguing for myself, nor for Lord Butler or other eminent university dons; nor for those who might be called provincial magnates. This should not be viewed as a personal matter. I think it has been viewed in the White Paper, and in speeches to your Lordships' House too much as a personal matter whether a Peer is a first-class or a second-class Peer. That is not the question. It is a question of first importance to the future effectiveness of the House that in its voting, as in its speaking, it should be broadly representative and should include men who are actively engaged outside the House in their day-to-day work and thoughts.
I rather agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said earlier on, that if you really follow this through it looks as if the voting strength is going to be second-class and the speaking strength first-class. That is if you read some paragraphs of the White Paper. Is that a sensible thing? Are we being sensible to give my noble friend Lord Butler an excuse for not coming here to vote? This is what might happen. I think we should look at this 882 from the point of view of the value of the decisions taken by the House, and in the end the decisions taken by the House are decisions taken by the votes of the House.
One further point about the value of the votes of men of this kind. If you want to have a House whose Members not only speak with an independent voice but vote on important decisions with that same independence, you will certainly not be weakened in your purpose by having Members who approach your problems from positions of responsibility in an active life outside here. Let me add that men actively engaged in affairs outside this House are the most likely to be feeling from day to day the interference of the Executive and therefore the most likely to be on the look-out to curb Executive power if it becomes too great.
The main argument for the need for regular attendance is to be found in paragraph 20 of the White Paper; namely, that the legislative functions of the House require regular attendance, and are not appropriate for those who can attend only occasionally. But the legislative functions are greatly helped, have been greatly helped, and I think always will be greatly helped, by the less frequent attendance of experts or men actively engaged outside, whose votes as well as voices may be important in the final result. Nor, incidentally, do I concede the implication in some of the words of the White Paper, that the amount of work that goes into the scrutinising of Bills for legislation purposes on Committee is necessarily all that much greater than the amount of work involved in preparing a speech for your Lordships' House on difficult issues of policy in general debates or Second Reading debates.
I believe that this idea that legislative functions involve near whole-time attendance and attention has done some harm to another place and would do great harm here. The idea that all politicians in legislative assemblies should be professional may one day come to be a well-respected idea But that all created Lords who vote should be professional created Lords will not, I hope, become a revered concept.
One is bound to comment that the White Paper itself assumes that Ministers will not be able to attend one Session in three, and that the Law Lords and the 883 five senior members of the Bishops' Bench might not be able to do so. It goes on to assume, apparently, that their absence is not going to weaken the legislative efficiency of the House, and so the qualification is to be waived in those cases. I believe, most sincerely, that this insistence on a rigid attendance qualification will be a great mistake and is quite unnecessary within the scheme before us. Of course it is no part of the rules of another place, and it really is quite illogican to say that the words of these Peers are important but their votes are not.
Paragraph 28 of the White Paper reads:Voting Peers would constitute a 'working House' in whom the effective power of decision would reside.One does not have to go far in the White Paper to find an answer to the question: why was the qualification insisted on? The answer must relate to remuneration. I would agree at once that any Peer who is unable for good reasons to be present on more than a stated number of days should either not draw such remuneration or draw only a part of it. But remuneration and voting are, I should have thought, quite separate matters. So may I express the hope that this will be looked at again?
In case the Party Leaders, or those admirable men the Chief Whips, may be thinking that their voting strength on important occasions would suffer severely from the fact that a number of Peers would not be able to attend because of their full-time occupations, let me say just this. Those of us who have been in another place and were then still leading a fairly active life outside know well the power of the Whips and the power of conscience to bring one along to debates. I do not think that the sense of duty of noble Lords here is likely to be any less than that of Members of another place. Nor do I suppose that any created Peer who knew that he could not over a period do his duty here as a voting Peer would hesitate to resign his voting right, as provided for in the White Paper.
If, however, the Party leaders or the Chief Whips are also concerned that the abandonment of attendance qualifications may hinder the completion of the business of the House, I would, if necessary, 884 but only if necessary, advocate some small increase in the total numbers of the House as set out in the White Paper (I am thinking in terms of 10 or 20), so important do I believe it is to have among the voting House men and women who are actively engaged outside the House. That, my Lords, is the plea I make to the Government and to the House. Do not let us, in the decisions we make by our votes, no less than in our speeches, cut ourselves off from those who are actively engaged in wide areas of national life.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD REITH
My Lords, I have only one short observation to make. It is to ask the Leader of the House—and as he is not here perhaps somebody will convey the message to him—whether he will give consideration to a particular proposition, and whether he will engage the help, or at any rate the interest, of others who might be equally concerned, particularly the Secretary of State for Scotland. The proposition is just this: that there should be in the reformed House a representation of the Established Church of Scotland, as there is of the Established Church of England.
§ 4.31 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I find myself in the somewhat embarrassing position of making a maiden speech in an atmosphere where there is some doubt about my virtue. Like another noble Lord on the opposite Benches, I have once made an interjection here in debate. If your Lordships can tolerate a demi-vierge I will ask for your indulgence.
I speak as a hereditary Peer, as one of the "nonentities" of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, as one of the "random" personnel of the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, as a "backwoodsman" to be transplanted again if the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has his way. I am also—and this is where my status becomes a little more sinister in the eyes of the distinguished compilers of the White Paper —a "well-whippable" Conservative. I should like, therefore, to take a very little time in a very long debate to demonstrate to your Lordships how so typical a figure as a youngish, Toryish, and now, I suppose, "hereditaryish" Peer need not be typical in his responses to 885 the White Paper, nor in his reasons for voting in its support.
May I begin with this question of heredity? I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said yesterday, that the issue is really a red herring being dangled not only before your Lordships' noses, but before the nose of Parliament as a whole. The hereditary principle can only be justified if it is in a constant state of growth, of organic change. It was killed in the Life Peerages Act of 1958. Your Lordships have heard the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, speak fascinatingly on this. The White Paper simply gives it a decent, honourable, albeit slightly expensive, funeral. The whole point of handing on to one generation, even in a diluted degree, the honours achieved by another is that in this way you get the genuinely random effect, a genuine continuity, a genuinely unpredictable Chamber, and so build that unpredictability into your political system.
I am attracted by what the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said yesterday, about the random element in the composition of your Lordships' House. But this is now largely departed, anyway, and, in any case, if we were to push the argument a little further down the logical path, we could surely, in the white hot technological Britain of the Prime Minister and of that ex-Lord, Lord Stansgate, devise a technological and, therefore, admirable process of random selection. What about Premium Bond Peers, noble "Ernies", chosen by computer on the occasion of the Birthday or New Year Honours?
The desirable features of the hereditary system have already been scrubbed out, and we are left only with the frivolous ones. Why then support the White Paper's suggestion that existing hereditary Peers may remain "fourpennies" to the grave, if not beyond. I believe that good manners, the old somewhat dusty idea of a gentleman, are critical to our political system, whatever the political positions or ideologies of the gentlemen involved. If you do not believe in gentility of this sort in politics, even if its expression often bores or frustrates you, your only clear alternative is a belief in the politics of non-compromise; in short, in revolution.
886 I do not myself feel that reform of your Lordships' House is one of the most incendiary and urgent issues facing our country, and like many noble Lords on this side of the House, and perhaps like a few on the other side, I have my very strong political suspicions of the motives of Her Majesty's Government in putting it forward at this time. I do not mean to be offensive; I understand that it is the traditional prerogatives of maidens to be on their guard. But what I feel—and I believe that I feel it as passionately as any of your Lordships—is that the greatest, the supreme, contribution that Britain cart make in foreign affairs today is to be discovered in the continuing stability of her political institutions at home, and in the courtesy and lack of violence with which she conducts her own often difficult and very contentious affairs.
Be polite to backwoodsmen and you will be polite to internal Revenue officials, to students with long hair, and even, at a pinch, to backwoodsmen with long hair. Learn to deal uncompromisingly, yet in the language and rhetoric of compromise, with those whose views often incense you and you may find that the sting has been removed from their devils' tails, and that in utterly respecting their position you may yet salvage from it something which improves your own. Your Lordships will have guessed that I am referring as mildly and, therefore, as ambiguously as possible to the scenes which occurred in another place yesterday in a similar debate on this same White Paper.
Before I sit down, let me treat very briefly with the White Paper itself. Paragraph 40 bothers me considerably, and as it is a short paragraph I am going to read the relevant part:Peers by succession who preferred not to be members of the reformed House would have the option to withdraw if they wished to do so; those who did would nevertheless be able to retain their titles. The option would have to be exercised within a period of one year from the date of the reform.My Lords, it seems to me that it puts an intolerable strain on existing Peers of succession—on people like myself, in fact—that the option of withdrawal from your Lordships' House should have to be exercised within a year from the date of 887 the reform. This means that if a Peer should decide not to withdraw but after five years or so should wish to withdraw himself, in the effective, physical sense of the word, and not in the constitutional sense, he would be cast into a political limbo similar to that which used to be suffered by some Scottish Peers. He would not be able to enjoy the ordinary citizen's right to stand for Parliament. I am thinking particularly at this point of the young Peers, whose cause was so ably pressed yesterday by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury.
In another place they are suspicious as a corporate body, let alone along Party lines, of your Lordships' House. They might well argue that this is a case of existing Peers of succession having their constitutional cake and eating it, of getting "unfair" experience in your Lordships' House which might then be used to advantage in getting oneself elected to another place. My Lords, this would be as silly as saying that a prospective M.P. who went to a school or university renowned for its debating society was "unfairly" placed above another candidate with no organised debating experience at all. If our young politicians are to regain the respect which many of your Lordships seem to agree some of their elders have lost, they will need all the experience they can get, wheresoever they can get it. There are many paragraphs in the White Paper which could do with a long, hard, second look, and this, in my view, is one of them.
My second question about the White Paper concerns the issue of remuneration of Peers. Are the "fourpennies" to continue to get their 4½ guineas and out-of-town travelling expenses? Like the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story, perhaps the significance of this question is that it does not bark, that the White Paper seems studiedly to ignore it. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that the present system be continued. If existing Peers of succession are worth retaining at all they are surely worth a "fiver" or so to the taxpayer. It would be a poor Peer of succession who could not earn such a sum outside this House in the same time that he spends inside it.
Finally, my Lords, the strongest feeling of unease that I, as a newcomer, have detected in your Lordships over the last 888 two days is the same unease that is detectable in the whole country. Are our politicians becoming, not too professional. but too jealous of their own power and privilege as a professional body? We talk about "the body politic". The "image" of a politician in our days should be that of a well trained and dedicated professional man—a solicitor, say, or general practitioner—who yet finds time to keep up with specialist cases or specialist research. If noble Lords, especially younger noble Lords, think this a dull attitude, I would say let us be as wild as we can in our cultural life, in our dress; let us take all the risks we can in the arts, in architecture; let us be exciting, argumentative, impassioned in our debates about the sort of scene we want and the sort of society we want to enjoy it. But let us keep our political institutions as safe, courteous, compromising, dull, even as the present White Paper. Look around the world to-day; look at the history of this planet in even the last 28 years that I myself have enjoyed it, and you will usually find that exciting politics have a way of interfering with, and indeed destroying, exciting lives.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, within the last half-hour or so I have received quite a bit of technical advice as to whether the speech to which we have just listened from my noble friend Lord Gowrie is, or is not, technically a maiden. It appears that my noble friend did utter, I am sure to the great satisfaction of noble Lords present, briefly in another debate. It was so brief on that occasion that I am advised that, technically, the speech to which we have to-day listened is in fact a maiden. This gives me an opportunity to express the pleasure we have all taken in my noble friend's maiden speech, a speech upon which I congratulate him. Personally, if asked, I would say that, whenever in future he repeats that kind of performance in this House, it will be well worth a "fiver" from public funds.
My noble friend is a graduate in Arts and Sciences of Harvard University, which to me makes him an object of awe and reverence. He himself referred to his luxuriant hair. It leads me to tell your Lordships that the other day I decided I should like to be rather more 889 "with it" and let my hair grow. Nothing happened at all. Anyhow, my noble friend has the real thing. I say to him sincerely that his intervention to-day has brought home to us, in a very crisp way, the value of the freshness and independence of mind that we get from our younger Peers by succession. I am glad to feel that if this reform goes forward we shall be able to look forward to many opportunities of hearing further from my noble friend in this House.
I want to offer my mite of felicitation to those who have participated in this historically important Conference. It had to be a compromise settlement, and as such it cannot possibly be expected that its detailed provisions will be equally acceptable or palatable to all, but I believe that it represents a timely measure of reform in the right direction. No doubt in the years to come, in the light of experience, there will be plenty of opportunities for our successors, or even for ourselves, to modify and improve whatever scheme comes into operation. Therefore, as has already been said by many noble Lords, this particular measure is a step which in all its provisions is not necessarily immutable forever.
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, and my noble friend Lord Jellicoe on the personal contributions and patient efforts which clearly they have made during the course of these discussions. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Carrington on the wise advice which he has offered throughout the discussions. Furthermore, I pay tribute to the work which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, put into this matter when he was Leader of the House. It seems to me, and I think many noble Lords will agree, that the White Paper with which we have been presented is an essentially fair-minded document. I should like also to offer my humble congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, and again to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe for their speeches yesterday and what I might call their persuasive pragmatism or—if it sounds better—their pragmatic persuasiveness.
I should like to put on record, in telegraphic form, why in my humble and unimportant view this settlement should be accepted. I wish that I had heard 890 the speech of my noble friend, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. Years ago I found myself in charge of a Department of which Lord Butler a year or two earlier had been the much more distinguished head. I learnt in those days that if ever I said or did anything different from what Lord Butler had said or did, I had to have at least twelve good reasons for it. Not knowing what he has said to-day, I find it difficult at short notice to muster those twelve reasons.
I believe this settlement to be historically important because it puts on record the considered view of the Leaders of the three Parties that a Second Chamber is needed as a component in our Parliamentary constitution. That is a point of outstanding importance and an achievement of historic importance, too. I believe that this view will be shared by the public at large in the country. To me, the case for reform is proven without any doubt. That applies both to composition and to functions. While I favoured reform in composition and functions, I was one of those who feared that in the process of reform there would be a danger that this House would be left with no worthwhile functions to perform. In my opinion that would have been an absolute disaster. I think that any reform which had that result would not have been acceptable to Members of this House. It seems to me that, in the event, the proposals which we are considering leave very worthwhile functions indeed to this House.
Anyone who knows anything about this House will testify to the dedicated, devoted and distinguished services rendered to this House by a very large number of Peers by succession; I am sure that there will be no disagreement about that. But I am bound to say that I personally do not believe that heredity alone is any longer defensible as a basis for legislative functions. That has led me personally to accept the proposed two-tier system, a device which otherwise I certainly should not have regarded with enthusiasm.
Then one comes to the question of nomination or election. It is clear that this knotty question has received profound study by the members of the Conference. We are told that the other place would never accept an elected 891 House of Lords. However that may be, the fact is that no one so far has been able to propose a method of election which would result in a Second Chamber sufficiently different from the other one. Personally, I would not rule out for ever the possibility of an elective basis. It may be that later on changes may come in local government and in regional organisation which conceivably may throw up some possible basis for an elected Chamber, but I have no doubt whatever that at present and in the immediate future the principle of nomination will continue to be the best basis. I personally have found persuasive the arguments of those noble Lords who have pointed out that the degree of patronage involved in these proposals may well prove no greater than the potentialities under the present system.
One then comes to the question of the provision of a built-in Government majority. I am not enamoured of that provision, but on the whole something of the kind may be necessary and may be less indefensible than the traditional built-in imbalance which we have witnessed in this House in the past. I believe that if the new provisions are tried out with good will, as I am sure they will be, then in the light of experience, and as we get accustomed to a reasonable, practical balance of opinion in this House, it may be possible to devise some other provision which may be better than this one. I want to mention only one point on the age of retirement. My Lords, I used to think I knew precisely what "quite old" meant, but as the years go by I find myself redefining it every few years, I have therefore no positive advice to give your Lordships at this moment, but I have worked out that my noble friend Lord Gowrie is less than half as old as I am.
Then I listened with interest to one or two noble Lords and noble Baronesses yesterday who referred to the absence of a Speaker or Chairman. We might do worse than to look at this procedure to see whether, voluntarily, we might even subjugate ourselves to some measure of control there. It has seemed to me on one or two occasions that the only alternative that we have, of moving "That the noble Lord be no longer heard"— 892 this is not a suggestion at this particular moment—is perhaps a harsh touch on the tiller to deal with what is sometimes a temporary and agreeable departure from course. But in asking for a Chairman I must say it is a little like approved-school boys asking for stricter supervision. One would want to know exactly what its nature would be before subscribing to it. But I think it might be worth looking at.
Finally, may I say that I am one of those who attach very great importance indeed to a settlement by agreement; and here in the White Paper we have, so far as the Conference goes, precisely that. When agreement has been reached as a result of the painstaking work of a group of able, experienced, and fair-minded people, then it is generally not the course of wisdom lightly to set it aside. There is little doubt today that the standing and prestige of this House has been enhanced over the past decade or two. I think part of the credit for that must go to the courageous initiative of Mr. Harold Macmillan in introducing the system of Life Peerages, which seems to me to have been an unquestionable success.
I would say in conclusion only that I feel very proud to be a humble and undistinguished Member of your Lordships' House, and to have been one for the past eight years. I have the deepest respect for the abilities of noble Lords by succession and by creation, and for the conventions and traditions of this House. I remember hearing the story of a class of small boys who were asked by their teacher how many of them wished to go to Heaven. All of them put their hands up except one small boy. The teacher said to him, "Tommy, don't you want to go to Heaven?", and Tommy said, "Yes —but not with that lot". My Lords. I shall be equally proud to find myself a Member of this House reformed on the lines that are now proposed until the age of statutory senility descends upon me; and I shall be happy to move into the uncharted future in the distinguished and comradely company of your Lordships.
§ 4.55 p.m.
My Lords, it is a century-old privilege of the condemned man on the scaffold to make a speech, 893 though of course the Government of the day often took the precaution of assembling massed drums to prevent his being heard. I am going to avail myself of that privilege to-day; and as for the massed drums, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that excepting for Lord Jellicoe and Lord Salisbury, who could scarcely have been omitted from the beginning of the debate, there were only 5 hereditary Peers in the first 23 speakers yesterday, although the hereditary Peers are the people whose fate is most at issue at the moment under the proposals contained in the White Paper. If that is not massed drums, I do not know what is. One felt that the White Paper had been put into practice almost before it had been carried by your Lordships.
None the less, I say at once that I am in agreement with the White Paper and I shall support it. I think that the politicians who have exercised the privilege of the Crown in creating hereditary Peers have themselves thrown so much mud at the system that it should not be maintained. Before I make any criticism of the House, I should myself like to pay a tribute to the Leader of the House for the work he does and the fight he put up for the House, and has done in the past, and for the way he has managed it and kept it on its course. I think we ought all to he very grateful to him, and I am glad to have the chance to say that.
Before we leave the hereditary system, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it has not been altogether a bad system. Looking at the history of my own country, I am always astonished that the Crown, in such a very weak position in such an intensely feudal country, managed to procure and keep observed so many laws for the benefit of the poorer people. For example, I think that in 1496 we had the first Public Act providing for public education in Scotland, and that was worked entirely through the hereditary system. The Barons were enjoined and told how to set to work to ensure the education of the children of the Barony and I need hardly remind your Lordships that in Scotland Barons are people who have a hereditable jurisdiction.
In the 18th century the hereditary system did not work at all badly, because 894 the interests of the two Houses lay pretty well parallel and they agreed with one another. It was the Reform Act 1832 which marked the first difference, because the new House of Commons represented to a considerable extent the growing trade, whereas the House of Loris preponderantly represented the landed interests. That situation continued, with growing feeling between the Houses, until we got the situation of 1910 and 1911.
Before I pass from that, I should like to say that I took part as a minor speaker in the 1910 House of Lords Election, and I thought that the Conservative Party played their cards frightfully badly. If they had gone back to the Manchester speech of Disraeli fifty years before, they would have found that the posters of the enemy were their best help, because there was a lovely picture of a Peer with his crown on crooked—your Lordships will remember it—saying,"What!—tax my land?", and there were Peers all over the country getting up in the middle of 10,000 acres and saying they did not hold any land. If, on the other hand, they had gone back to Disraeli's Manchester speech they could have accepted the enemy's posters; and I think it would have been better for the country because, although the Liberal Government would have got back, they would not have had such a big majority.
By now, to-day, we are back in 1912 because in 1912 all your Lordships were constitution-mongers; and to-day we are all constitution-mongers. And while I agree with something in almost every speech that has been made so far, I am not so confident a constitution-monger because I have been through it all before. It has always seemed to me that if you are to get real modifications in the Constitution they must come about through a contest between real forces; your Constitution makes the demarcation line across which you neither wish to go nor wish the other side to trespass. I can imagine a constitutional crisis and constitutional reform taking place between the T.U.C. and the House of Commons. I think that is quite passible. But it is very difficult for me to envisage a real constitutional struggle taking place between your Lordships' House and the House of Commons, because here there is absolutely no force.
895 As a matter of fact, that has been pretty well confessed in the debate already. The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, in introducing the White Paper, pointed out what a tremendous part this House could play if we got rid of the hereditary system. But is that not what lawyers call "confession and avoidance"? It means that we are no use now; that we are going to have our powers somewhat diminished and that then we are going to be frightfully useful, or that the Commons are going to allow us more powers. I think that is an illusion, because I look on it as the carrot in front of the donkey— and your Lordships will realise that the only reason for the donkey falling for it is because he is a donkey. I do not think that any reform of this House will bring about an improvement of your Lordships' position in that way.
My Lords, I am entirely on the side of the White Paper. It is a step in the right direction. But I do not think your Lordships' fight in legislation to-day is worth the time and trouble you spend on it. Look at the immense amount of pains taken and the experience and learning that went into the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, on the Town and Country Planning Act and at those of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, on the Transport Act. Look at the fate of the Amendments they put down. They were none of them wrecking Amendments; but look at their fate. When you send a Bill—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt at this point? I think the noble Lord is doing less than justice to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, because their enormous contribution was not wasted. Both Bills were improved.
I am glad to hear the noble Lord say that. But it is my opinion—and I am giving it—that their great ability, the pains they took and the time they gave to those Bills had so comparatively small an effect. I hope the noble Lord will not quarrel with that. Their ability was very much wasted. To have employed it outside this House and on other matters would have been better not only for themselves but for the country.
896 My Lords, I have always been of the opinion—I formed it after reflection on the experiences of 1912; and I have never changed it—that it would be far more honest to the people of this country to do away with, to abolish, this House and to let the people of this country have, frankly, the single-Chamber Government which in effect is what they have to-day. I recognise of course that the House of Commons would have to invent new stages for Bills and would have to take more time over their legislation. But I think that would be a very good thing; there is far too much legislation in this country. If you go to your lawyer and ask him what the law is, he no longer can tell you. In the days that I was talking about, the good old days, when in Scotland we had hereditable jurisdictions, every householder knew the law; to-day even the professional lawyers cannot tell you the law; there is much too much legislation. Therefore, I am abolitionist, and have always been an abolitionist, quietly; and it has never seemed to me that the work done by your Lordships' House really was worth the enormous time and trouble that was spent on it. None the less, I support wholeheartedly the White Paper and I am very grateful for the work done on it. At any rate, it is a step in the right direction.
My Lords, now, if I may, I will say just a few words about this House and the changes that I have noticed in it. What used to happen when I first came here was that in the first place everybody had to know the Rules of the House. If you broke the Rules everybody—your own side and the other side—joined in shouting "Order…" at you until you obeyed. It was not a Party matter; everybody was interested in the proper conduct of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, yesterday said that he wanted a Speaker. The reason why he wanted a Speaker was that nobody nowadays takes the trouble to learn the Rules and that nobody, either on your own side or on the other side, obeys the Rules.
The other change—and I think it is the biggest change—is that when we had a debate in those days all the "big wigs" led off and there was an ancient rule—and my father told me that sixty or seventy years ago it was the regular rule—that in this House nobody said what anybody before them had said. 897 Whoever spoke gave his reasons; and it was the House, seized of those reasons, that then had to judge them. So nobody said what anybody else had already said. If you were a Back-Bencher and you got up and produced a new and valid point, you were marked; and you probably got on from that point. And it shortened the debates.
I have attended many long debates in this House. To-day everybody gets up and says exactly the same thing. I say to them, "Why do you do that, when the rule is that you do not say what anybody has said before you? You can say you adopt what has been said, or you may vary it; but you must not go on saying just the same thing." The answer I get—and it may be the Life Peerage Bill which is responsible for this —is: "Ah, you don't understand. An opinion gains weight if I enunciate it". The House that we are in to-day is, I think, not a very important body, but it contains a lot of important people. When I first joined the House—it had not quite gone downhill; the full effect of the Parliament Act had not been carried out—it was quite an important body but it contained quite insignificant people.
My Lords, I think that if your Lordships are going on—and I wish you success though I do not agree with you; for I say that you ought to be abolished —it might be a good thing to study the old rules to see whether you cannot get back some of our ancient temper in these matters. There is one small improvement I should like to suggest. It tickled me very much that the noble Lord, Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, tripped on something very similar yesterday. It is that, whether we have a two-tier House or not, voting or non-voting Peers, it would contribute greatly to the quality of the speeches here if we made a rule that nobody who took part in a debate should vote in it. Then every speech would be a speech of persuasion.
I have said what I want to say. I thought that the abolitionists ought to have a show. There is one other point I would put about abolition before I sit down. The people of this country think that they have a bicameral system when, in effect, for legislation, they have a unicameral system. They are deceived. I hate political shams and I want to get rid of that one. That this is a political 898 sham I can prove to your Lordships. In another place—it is right to use "another place" in this sense—there are people who are so deceived that they want to abolish your Lordsips' House because they think we have so much power. However, I shall certainly vote with the Government on this White Paper. I congratulate them and I am grateful to them for the work they have put in on it.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD STAMP
My Lords, I, of all people, do not mind being a "fourpenny stamp", but I do have serious reservations about some of the proposals contained in the White Paper, many of which, of course, at this stage of the debate have already been stressed by other noble Lords. Like others, I dislike intensely proposals that must inevitably increase the power of patronage of the Prime Minister of the day, particularly if these involve paid appointments. The fact that these appointments would be made largely from Members of another place would have two further consequences. This House would be very largely composed of the elderly, who would not be affected by the retirement provision that applies to voting Peers. Also, the intensification of the Party political atmosphere, which has been noticeably increasing since I joined your Lordships' House 27 years ago, would be further accentuated. I do not want to see this House becoming more and more a pale shadow of another place
On the other hand, I do want to see this House making the fullest possible contribution to Parliamentary democracy in the light of modern needs. To bring this about, it is essential to take into account certain trends that have become very apparent in the country in recent years. Undoubtedly there is an increasing disillusionment with our Parliamentary system, a feeling that Parliament is becoming more and more out of touch with the people. I do not propose to go into the reasons for this, but it is unquestionably a fact. I believe that this feeling could be mitigated if there were some way of broadening the representation in Parliament so that as many shades of opinion and walks of life as possible could have a say in our affairs. This broadening of representation would have to take full account of the increasing demand 899 of the youth of the country to be heard and also of the need that the different regions should be fully represented.
I would therefore strongly support the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, yesterday: that a third tier or category be added to the proposed structure of the reformed House, composed of Members appointed for a limited period—namely, the life of a Parliament, or even a single Session. My proposals, though, are much more radical—even revolutionary. I feel that these Members should be nominated from societies and organisations of recognised standing, representing the widest possible range of interests. There would be representatives from youth organisations, including nominations from the union societies of our universities; representatives of all sections of religious thought, including those of non-Christian religions; representatives of the coloured community, a particularly important section at this time; representatives of the professions, of the Press, of industry, of the trade unions, and so on. Nominations should be by ballot and not on an ex officio basis.
This category of Members would have the same responsibilities, rights and remuneration as voting Peers, and would, of course, hold the balance of voting power. Their inclusion would involve some increase in the size of the voting House envisaged, but this might be offset to some extent by a reduction in the number of Life Peers created. Some Members of the third tier of proven ability might be given Life Peerages after their terms of office had ended. This would provide a valuable source of recruitment to the permanent voting membership of the House and would reduce the number of political appointments made from another place. It might be that such Members could be elected by this House, thus reducing the extent of patronage possible. Obviously, not all organisations could be represented at one time but each should feel that from time to time it would be able to make its views known and play a part in the government of the country. The gain in prestige of Parliament from the people feeling that they belong in this way would be enormous.
This proposal need not in any way threaten the sovereignty of the Commons. 900 The powers of the reformed House should be as suggested in the White Paper, and the elected representatives of the people as a whole would have the last word if there were to be any difference of opinion. One would hope, though, that they would welcome expressions of opinion from a cross-section of the people on issues, some of which might not have even been considered when they were elected to Parliament. Some might feel that the selection of such representatives would present an insuperable problem, but I believe that if there were the will, a way could be found.
I suggest, very tentatively, that it might be as follows. It would be necessary to draw up an electoral roll, consisting of societies or organisations entitled to send representatives. This would be divided into certain broad categories, such as I have suggested, bearing in mind the need for a fair regional distribution. Within these categories representation might be decided, perhaps by the societies or organisations themselves that apply for representation and have minimum qualifications, by means of a vote by ballot. Alternatively, Parliament might make the selection.
Representation at any one time would of course be kept within a maximum figure of, say, 50 seats to start with. That figure would be gradually increased as the hereditary element in the House diminished. Eventually, with the disappearance of the last hereditary Peer, if the age limit for voting were removed, as I personally should like to see, the House might revert to a two-tier system, composed entirely of voting Members, some appointed for life and some for a limited period. The three-tier system could therefore be regarded as essentially transitional. If this plan were adopted, remuneration would have to be dependent on regularity of attendance, though not necessarily linked with day-to-day attendance as at present.
Such proposals may seem to some to be far too radical, too idealistic and even fanciful. I believe, though, that they embody a vitally important principle, giving a new meaning to the phrase "representation of the people". This is not a time for half-measures but a time for fundamental changes. We are legislating for the future as well as for 901 the present. I am convinced that the need for such an extension of the membership of a Second Chamber will become more and more evident, particularly when the hereditary Peerage has been eliminated. Our country has led the way in the past in the development of Parliamentary democracy and this is an opportunity to do so again.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Longford, in characteristic fashion, praised those who participated in the work of producing this White Paper and the scheme we are now considering. I join him in that praise. Those who have participated from this House and from the other place, who have not been mentioned so far, have done an extraordinarily good job of work. But I am bound to say, from my personal knowledge, that if any single person is deserving of praise, and ought to be remembered for his persistence in influencing and in persuading the Cabinet to embark upon this Inter-Party Conference, that person is Lord Longford. He did a remarkable job, which he had set his mind upon doing when he became a Minister, and by his persistence and persuasiveness has managed to bring it to this stage. I am full of praise for that effort.
The White Paper, my Lords, has presented me with something of a challenge. About 18 months ago, on April 12 of last year, at column 1317 of Hansard, I said towards the end of a speech on Lords Reform:My Lords, despite all I have said in favour of this House, as at present constituted, I would end the system that gives it a built-in majority; I would end the hereditary system, which is repugnant to me—although I have admitted some of its advantages—but, like so many who have considered what sort of Second Chamber we should have, I cannot make up my mind what to put in its place. Every system that I have been able to study seems to me to have disadvantages which far outweigh its advantages.I ended by saying in that context:I have yet to be convinced that change, except in the limited aspect of Statutory Orders, is either desirable or necessary.Clearly, what I have had to do in relation to the proposals now before us is to consider whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and I must admit that I think they do. I think this 902 is a scheme deserving of support by this House. If it is thought that I have been on the road to Damascus and have been converted by a blinding light, I can assure noble Lords that the conversion was not in the dazzle of the possible receipt of a salary, for even if under these proposals a salary should come my way, the receipt of it is likely to be of so short a duration as to matter but little to me. Clearly, age is the factor in this connection.
What I like about these proposals is the simple fact that they appear to me to accord with the mind and the temper of the people of this country. The elimination of the hereditary Peer from the right to participate in the government of the country is to happen; but it is to come about in an almost painless way. That, I believe, accords with the mind, the temper and the feeling of the people of this country, who in my opinion are a kindly people. The built-in majority for one particular Party is to disappear, and that, too, without too great a departure from the past. The House will remain conservative, with a small "c"; and perhaps that is right. Old men and (dare I say it?) old women are naturally conservative.
But there is the safeguard for the elected House in these proposals that even if that House is revolutionary it will be able to get its own way in the end. That is as it should be. This House will remain what it has been in the past, and I hope to some extent will be increasingly so in the future—one which will be able to wave a cautionary finger at the other place. Wise men will still be able to come to the counsels of the nation without necessarily becoming full-time politicians. How I should hate to see the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, become a full-time politician! But how I like to see him here, as indeed I like to see the noble Lord, Lord Butler, from whom we heard this afternoon such a marvellous speech. I have always been a little afraid that any reform of this House might people it solely with full-time politicians, and I welcome the fact that, under the proposals that we are now considering, this will be avoided.
The proposal for the two-tier system appears to me to be both ingenious and also kindly to those of us who not become voting Peers. Perhaps I, too, 903 may join with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, in a word of praise for Mr. Burrows, for the proposals which he put up and which have eventually been embodied in this White Paper.
The disadvantages—and, of course, there are disadvantages—in this Paper, are, as I see it, that, despite everything that has been said to the contrary, there will inevitably be an increase in patronage in the hands of the Prime Minister and of the Party managers. And do not forget the Party managers in this. In some circumstances, I might have been afraid of my Whips, but because of my age I do not care. But Party managers will matter in this connection, and we must not forget this. Patronage is considerable now, with only titles and membership of this House at stake and involved. How much greater will it be when to titles are added salaries! A much greater element of patronage will enter into it. I am bound to say in this connection that when yesterday I heard many hereditary Peers speaking so strongly against the patronage element in these proposals, I could not help reflecting that they are in this House as a result of patronage conferred upon their ancestors and upon the privilege of their birth. So in this case, if patronage ought to be decreased, patronage plus privilege certainly ought to be decreased.
In the matter of the manning of this House—and this, as I see it, is a serious point—I should much prefer an element of patronage with certain safeguards (and safeguards are necessary) to the creation of an elected Second Chamber or one produced by the sort of scheme propounded this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Stamp. I believe that this would produce the best sort of Second Chamber for the purposes that we all have in mind: and it must not, would not and cannot be under this system something that will rival the other place.
I am bound to say, my Lords (and I shall not get many "Hear, hears!" perhaps from behind me on this) that I have considerable doubts about putting so much power in the hands of the Cross-Benchers, the Law Lords and the Bishops. For, taking the figures in paragraph 48 of this White Paper, it is obvious that they will be standing in the 904 middle of the see-saw, thus bringing about to some extent the same sort of situation that I hated to see in the other place—that of a comparatively small group standing in the middle of the seesaw. Thank heaven! that up to now these Cross-Benchers have not been an organised Cross-Bench. But we never know what might happen in the future. The Cross-Benchers should certainly have influence, but not deciding power.
A further disadvantage that I see about this White Paper is that unless Party managers and others are careful in the selection of Life Peers we shall all be greybeards, something which under the hereditary system the accident of death prevented. For, as we have seen, it is the case that by succession many young men have been brought in, and we have seen comparative youth in this House. The maiden speech that we listened to this afternoon is an example of the accident of death bringing to this House a young man who I am sure will be an ornament to it in the future. Here I agree completely with what the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, said.
Concluding, my Lords, I am bound to say that the advantages in this White Paper appear to me far to outweigh the disadvantages. I have said previously in my speech that these proposals, taking them all in all, are in accord with the mind and the temper of the British people. I believe that to be so because they are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
§ 5.30 p.m.
My Lords, I have had the privilege of listening to a very large number of speeches during the last two days and account myself extremely fortunate to be among those who sit in this House to-day to hear this momentous debate, because it is indeed a remarkable debate. The speeches have ranged over the whole spectrum of the subject we have under discussion, from abolition, one might say, at one end, to retention at the other. But, in between, the vast body of speeches seems to have accorded a very large measure of approval to some change and, for the most part, to the change outlined in the White Paper.
There is one point I particularly want to make which came out more yesterday, although it has been referred to to-day. 905 The question is: "Why do we want to do anything now? Why do we want change now? There is no crisis"—so the argument goes. But, my Lords, we are debating an important matter. It is not a matter that relates merely to the House of Lords; nor is it merely a matter that deals, perhaps, with the latent disagreement between the two Houses of Parliament. This is a matter which concerns the whole country and is of transcending importance. If one is going to try to improve something of such importance, surely one does not choose a crisis time to do it; one chooses a time when there is, we hope, comparative calm. Then all concerned sit around a table to see whether they can hammer out the best possible piece of new machinery that the wit of man can devise. In point of fact, this is what the Leaders of the three Parties did, and in my view they came to an excellent result, which is shown in the White Paper. I should like to join with other noble Lords who have congratulated all those concerned for the very thorough and very valuable piece of work they have contributed to the country.
While I agree that the present House in its existing form has often done a very good job of work, every institution in one's experience is capable of improvement, and this goes for our own House as much as for anything else. Certainly to the outsider in the country, who is largely without knowledge of what goes on here and regards this House as an outdated anachronism, it is designed to perpetuate the privilege of a few at the expense of the wishes of the electorate. Surely, if that is the view, something needs to be done. I do not agree that that view is at all correct, but that is the view. I think the use of the word "privilege" in that context is wrong. When I first sat in your Lordships' House, as an hereditary Peer, I recognised that I had a privilege; but it was much more a responsibility. I sat here feeling in a sense somewhat awkward, because I sat here through no fault of my own and through no work or anything else I had done to deserve it.
As regards the view that this Chamber has acted at the expense of the electorate, other noble Lords have pointed out that, certainly owing to the skill of the Leaders of both sides over the last 25 years or so, and the co-operation of their fol- 906 lowers, it can be truly said that the wishes of the elected Chamber have not been thwarted. Indeed, we could say teat the hereditary element may well have strengthened the sense of responsibility which has existed in this House. Be that as it may, it is not good enough for a Second Chamber merely to act in a responsible and skilful way. In these days, when so little is taken for g ranted and so much that is good is held up to ridicule, the House must also be seen to be the right type of Chamber and be regarded as such by the people of the country as a whole.
One noble Lord yesterday, in referring to the excellent way in which your Lordships' House had acted in the past, used the phrase, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating". But, with respect, I think that that is quite an inapt analogy in this case, because the average elector in the country, far from being able to taste the pudding, cannot even nibble at it; he does not know what is going on. All he gets is a very wrong picture of the House. It is for this reason that I personally recognise the need for change now. Indeed, I rather regret that something was not achieved in 1948, when we came so close to agreement on the matter.
It is against these general remarks that I should like to make one or two observations on the White Paper. I realise very well that in discussing the White Paper one cannot really separate composition from powers. I make that reservation because I want to say something only about composition, and I do not want any of your Lordships to think that I do not realise that composition and power go absolutely hand in hand. Granted some change is necessary, do these proposed changes go too far, or do they not go far enough? My own view is that these proposals are to be regarded as no more than a single step; certainly not as the final step in the progressive adjustment of Parliament to suit changing circumstances. Over the last few years we have had a number of other changes, which are referred to on page 32 of the White Paper. I have no doubt that other changes will go on, even though we are dealing with this matter as permanent, not temporary—I accept that. Other changes will go on, and I say that hopefully rather than 907 regretfully, because however much political Parties may disagree on many topics—and it is right that they should in order to argue out the best solution —when it comes to the structure of Parliament I feel passionately that moves must be effected, so far as we can possibly make them, by agreement.
This is not to recognise any timid approach, but to recognise that we should attack this problem step by step, attempting to move only so far as at the moment we can reasonably see. That is what I think the present proposals in the White Paper amount to. And this is in keeping, surely, with our unwritten Constitution, which over the years has allowed changes in our Constitution to take place. In fact, the more I study the proposals the more I recognise that the resulting changes which will emerge in the course of a few years are very far-reaching, even if in the immediate future their lull extent may be masked by the transitional arrangements which are referred to in paragraph 49(c). I think that these transitional arrangements are immensely important. This is a time when, irrespective of which Party may be in power, many changes which stem either from technological, economic or humanitarian origins are urgently being considered all round, and are bound to be the subject of legislation. As I see it, despite the fact that we may all agree that recently Parliament has had too much legislation thrust upon it, Parliament will be under continuing pressure, and unless we have a period of transition and continuity of operation this pressure may easily prove too much for it.
As regards the two-tier system, I am afraid that I do not agree with those who regard the non-voting Peer as second-class. It seems to me to be an admirable suggestion. I ask myself: what are the reasons which might make one a non-voting Peer? Age will; but there is nothing wrong in that. In nearly every other organisation, including limited companies, there are age limits, and one has to accept them. If it becomes a question of option, of choosing whether to be a voting Peer or a nonvoting Peer, the choice is one's own, and it depends what other activities one feels bound to take part in, which would pre- 908 vent one spending sufficient time to qualify to be a voting Peer. So I do not worry about the so-called "second-class" Peer. This seems to me to be an admirable arrangement.
With regard to the question of patronage, I agree with those who say that the criticism has been overdone. Why do we criticise it? It may be thought that I am being a little naïve in what I am going to say, but surely we criticise this question of patronage because we are afraid; we have a suspicion that whoever may be the Prime Minister of the day may possibly use it in an improper way. But if we approach all our problems on the basis of suspicion, surely we shall get nowhere. We need to approach problems on the basis of trust, and do our best to see that the machinery is there to ensure that the trust is properly used. To do everything on the basis of suspicion seems to me to be entirely unlike our national character, and it will not be at all helpful.
There is just one point on the question of nomination. I agree with the proposal that Peers should be appointed to this House by nomination but, like many other noble Lords, I can foresee a difficulty when it comes to ensuring that there is a reasonable proportion of younger Peers in the House. How do we do this? One noble Lord yesterday said that this problem was just a red herring. I certainly do not agree with that. I think it is important, but not as it has been in the past. It is increasingly important for the future: and I say that because I am very much alive to the growing ferment and emanicipation of youth in this country to-day, and we certainly want to know, or at least to be not too far remote from, what youth is thinking to-day. I believe that we could easily bury our heads in the sand and think we know when in fact we do not really know at all.
Considering the question of remoteness I notice that in paragraph 47 of the White Paper reference is made to mathematical models of the future House and how it would turn out. I wonder whether these mathematical models could be used, bearing in mind the experience of the past twenty or thirty years, and with the help of a computer, to see what the 909 average age of this House might be expected to be in, say, twenty years' time. I believe that the average age would turn out to be very much higher than most of us imagine; it would give us a shock and would show how extremely remote we could find ourselves from the thinking of youth.
How do we deal with this question of getting more young people? And, if I may say so, I do not think that any noble Lord, in the speeches I have heard, has referred to young Peeresses. In my view it is just as important to have young Peeresses as young Peers.
I say that with apologies to any Peeresses present, but I am sure they would all agree with me that this is an important thing. But how do we get them? I cannot go along with many of my noble friends who suggest that the way to do this is by the hereditary system. I might perhaps venture to mention a suggestion, without necessarily putting it forward, which would use their arguments but not their conclusions. It might be for consideration whether the eldest sons of created Peers might have a limited option of sitting as non-voting Peers. This would be a very much smaller field to draw from and it might go some way to help the situation; but I am not necessary saying that it is the right answer. However, I do urge that, in one way or another, when the legislation is being drafted consideration should be given to this matter. It may be that the answer is not to have it in the legislation but to have it in the administrative arrangements which will have to be set up to advise the Prime Minister on the nominations.
Whatever else is done, I should not like to see young Members of your Lordships' House coming here as delegates from some organisations, because this is not a House of delegates: this is a House of individuals. And long may it remain so!
My Lords, having said that, I will end by saying that I support the proposals generally in the White Paper. I agree with others that there are points which need attention here and there. I accept the principle of nomination, as opposed to election. I cannot see that any elected 910 Chamber would be content with the powers that are now being given it; nor would any House of Commons agree to give it vastly more powers. I also very much doubt whether an elected Second Chamber, even if it were indirectly elected, could be sufficiently independent to wield that moral influence and ascendancy which must be the main weapon of a Second Chamber which, although having important revising responsibilities, should in my view be the focus of forward-looking national debate.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I intend to speak for about two minutes on the subject of the White Paper in general, and for a little longer on matters which touch on Scotland. I do not much like some of the proposals contained in the White Paper, for in essence soon we shall become a House of placemen. When I decided yesterday that I would use this word I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary and found it was qualified by saying that placemen were chosen without regard to fitness. Therefore I will qualify what I say by a recognition that while all of us will become old, some of us will be fit. But given a decision to do away with hereditary representation and tite fact that the process should be gradual for the well-functioning of the House, I do not see any obvious alternatives to those of the White Paper. In some degree as a stop-gap, there will be the Commission on Constitution. It should work, and our thanks are particularly due to all those who have worked so long and so hard to produce it.
There is one point on which I believe almost all your Lordships are deeply worried, and that is the question of youth. There have been various suggestions as to how we may deal with this. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, made mention of it in his speech, and the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, has just touched on it. I throw out one other idea for consideration, which is that the sons and daughters of hereditary cr Life Peers, when their fathers—or in certain cases their mothers—die, should be allowed to come to this House for one Parliament and to speak. Then, if they prove themselves, they could become nominated Peers, and, if not, they would 911 disappear forever—at any rate from this House.
Let me now turn to the reason why I am addressing your Lordships, namely, the question of Scotland. Clause 50 recognises this when it says:There are strong constitutional arguments based on the presence of Scottish peers in the House of Lords ever since 1707, and practical arguments arising from the existence of separate Scottish law, which make it particularly important that the reformed House should include a suitable number of Scottish peers.There are certainly strong constitutional arguments. The Act of Union says in its Article 23:That by virtue of the Treaty of the Peers of Scotland at the time of the Union sixteen shall be the number to sit and vote in the House of Lords.It goes on later to say:… this Act of Parliament … shall be held and observed in all time coming as a fundamental and essential condition of any Treaty or Union to be concluded betwixt the two kingdoms without any alteration thereof or derogation thereof in any sort for ever.Those are strong words, my Lords.
It has been argued that the Act of 1963 did away with the Scottish Representative Peers when it opened the door to all Scottish peers, but I wonder whether that is legally correct. The whole is greater than the part, but surely the right of the part, the right of the 16 Scottish Peers, remains. I quote again from the Act:… a fundamental and essential condition of the Treaty or Union in all time coming …".Perhaps we shall need to have reference to that body which the Government recognise to be a suitable guardian of Constitutions to clear up the question I have in mind—the Privy Council.
Having made the point, I prefer to put it aside for the time being and come to the meat of the problem which worries me. Clause 50 of the White Paper says:There are strong constitutional arguments, based on the presence of Scottish peers in the House of Lords ever since 1707, and practical arguments arising from the existence of separate Scottish law …".Indeed this is true. Scotland has its own criminal law; its own laws of succession; its own system of land tenure and its own system of education, of which we are properly proud. It also has laws upon many other things which are peculiarly 912 its own. Only last week the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, told us, when introducing the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill, why it was absolutely necessary to have such a Scottish Bill. In brief and uniquely, there have to be special Scottish Bills to deal with many things which affect the lives of the people of Scotland, and these Bills are often technically, in their background and their effect, specially known to those who live in Scotland, as opposed to those who, like myself, are London-based. By their lives and work, such Scottish-based Peers —be they Life Peers or hereditary Peers —cannot and should not be expected to qualify to vote under the one-third attendance Rule.
As the White Paper stands, this means that in practice Scottish Bills—and they could easily be certified as such—could be voted upon at all stages only by the few Scottish Peers who are London-based, plus the far, far greater number of English Peers, who know little or nothing about the matter. This would be a gift to the Scottish Nationalists for, I repeat, these Bills affect the daily lives of the ordinary man in Scotland. Further, I suspect it is a breach of the Act of Union. Various ways round the difficulty can be suggested, but I do not propose to put them forward to-day. The Scottish Peers' Association has set up a small unofficial all-Party group who are anxious to go into this problem with the Government if, as I much hope, the Government welcome help in finding a solution.
I want to make very clear that I am not talking about the general problems of regional representation, be they those of the English, Welsh or Scottish Regions or those of Northern Ireland, to which the Government attach the greatest importance, as is to be seen from paragraph 23 of the White Paper. Nor am I concerned with the issues of national importance which affect the whole of the Kingdom and on which, I hope, one and all—be they English or Scottish, Life Peers or hereditary Peers, voting or nonvoting—will play their part. My point arises because the Scottish laws are different from English and Welsh laws. Scotland is literally a law unto itself.
My Lords, I would finish as I began. I do not like the White Paper too well 913 but I do like the honey in Appendix II, and I will vote in its favour if, as I trust, it recognises the special Scottish problems about which I have spoken and if the Government welcome suggestions for the solution of those problems. If not, then I and, I hope, many other Scottish Peers will at least abstain or even vote against it.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Perth, I intend to vote in favour of this Motion, expressing general approval of the White Paper. But this debate is meant to give us all an opportunity of criticising the White Paper, and of making suggestions for its improvement which may or may not be considered by the Government. I should like to summarise very quickly what seem to me to be the chief defects in it. There is the timing, the age limit, the exclusion of hereditary Peers from attendance as well as from voting, and the perhaps rather artificial balance of Parties envisaged in paragraph 48.
On the first point, timing, the case was put very well yesterday, and quite sufficiently, by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. I have only to acid this. Since my noble friend spoke it has been argued that your Lordships and the other place agreed in 1958 and in 1963 to make alterations in our composition, and that we did not wait for the next Parliament until they took effect. My Lords, I do not think the parallel is a good one, because in 1958 what we did was first to include Life Peers and, in 1963, a wider number of hereditary Peers who had not previously been given a Writ of Summons. Here we are excluding, or rather diminishing, the functions and duties imposed by the Writ of Summons which was issued at the beginning of this Parliament by the Queen to all your Lordships, and I think it would be constitutionally more proper to wait until the next Parliament before a new kind of Writ with other duties is issued.
About the age limit, I would only say a brief word. In paragraph 44 it is proposed that for voting Peers there should be an age limit of 72, and in paragraph 45 it is proposed that this restriction should not apply to voting Peers who are Members of the Government. I do not know whether that 914 distinction will stand up to critical examination. If it had existed in the last Parliament it would have prevented the late Lord Alexander of Hillsborough from leading the Opposition, and what an awful waste of first-class, genuine, spirited human material that would have been. if it were applied to the other place it would have taken ten years off the active political life of Winston Churchill, David Logan, and, not least, of Mannie Shinwell, who is still going strong and who is one of the principal opponents of this White Paper in another place—but probably not because he is afraid of being superannuated when he comes to this House.
In this country it is now usual for certain professions such as schoolmasters and civil servants to have a retirement age which is compulsory, although in the case of civil servants many get far more important and lucrative work after they have retired which shows that their ability has not diminished. But, my Lords, Parliamentary work is not a profession, and I hope it never will be regarded as a profession. Men and women who are walling to give active and continual political service ought to be the best judges and the only judges of the time when they think they should retire from that activity, and I must say that I find the argument in paragraph 44 of this White Paper, which implies that it will be necessary to do this because people might not retire when they feel they ought to retire in order to get more money, is unworthy and rather degrading.
While compulsory retirement might deprive this House of the active service of old men, my next point of criticism is that the abrogation of the right of hereditary Peers to attend even without voting will deprive us of the advice of young men. I entirely agree, and I think most of us do, that in our modern society hereditary Peers should not necessarily have any right to vote in Parliament, and I think the two-tier plan proposed in this White Paper is a very good one. But why should any Peer not be allowed, if he is able and willing to do so, to come and give his advice? It is not as if there were any great personal advantage in doing so. For anybody who lives any distance from London and who is busy in some other occupation it is a great inconvenience to come here, and the expense of doing so is always greater than 915 the expense allowance. Limitation of the voting Members of this House is perfectly reasonable but limitation of the right to speak in Parliament, even in a debate like this with 120 speakers, can do no real good and it may deprive the country of independent counsel which may sometimes be of more value than the advice of nominees. I think the idea of having Government by superior persons is a Chinese one. It is not a British idea. I do not mind having some superior persons in this House but I should like to have a few ordinary persons, too.
In regard to paragraph 48, which deals with Party balance, I do not altogether like the very carefully calculated proposals about that, which of course cannot be embodied in legislation. I think it is a very good thing that the supporters of a Labour Government or a Conservative Government in your Lordships' House should not be greatly out-numbered by the supporters of the Opposition, and the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister has always had the power to correct that situation if necessary. It was done as long ago as 1712, when Queen Anne dismissed her Whig Ministers and sent for Lord Bolingbrooke to form a Tory Administration. They had not a majority in the Lords and Queen Anne created 12 Tory Peers so that the Government which had a majority in the House of Commons should not be frustrated.
I should not mind the White Paper saying in general that those who have the duty of advising the Crown on the creation of new Peers should have some regard to the balance of Parties in the House of Lords, but it seems to me that the thinking of the White Paper about this is a little too subservient to the prevailing conception of Party Government. Although Party organisation may be a necessity of democracy in the present circumstances, I think a great centralised monolithic Party machine, or two great centralised monolithic Party machines, can be as great a threat to liberty as a great monolithic bureaucratic machine. I thought the Lord Chancellor's reference yesterday to the use of a computer in order to get information about this was a little ominous. I do not want Parliament to be computerised, and I do not want to see a political convention—it 916 would only be a political convention—established which is so meticulously pedantic in its figures of Party balance as paragraph 48 of this White Paper.
May I conclude with a word of praise for the White Paper? I like the paragraph to which my noble friend Lord Perth has been referring, paragraph 50, which deals with the special position of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am glad the Government have realised that this is of special importance. I think the further one gets from the capital the more necessary it is to pay attention to this factor in the composition of the new House, especially perhaps in regard to the non-voting Peers.
If a non-voting Peer lives within 50 or 100 miles of London, and feels he can help by coming and giving advice without attending very regularly, it is not always too difficult for him to do so. But in the case of those who live in Scotland or other places a long distance away—and we all know the difficulties the usual channels have in arranging the business a long time in advance—it is very difficult for enough Peers always to come when their advice would be needed. I would not ask the Government to give Scotland more than its due proportion of voting Peers, but I think there is a case for giving more than our numerical proportion of non-voting Peers, to come here as often as they can, without attending regularly, and advise us and give us the benefit of their experience and knowledge of Scottish matters. That is often much more important, I think, than walking through the Lobby. Probably a great many of my noble friends from Scotland do more good with their tongues than with their feet in this House.
In the old Parliament of Scotland, before the Union, all Scottish Peers and all the Commons sat together in one House: we were unicameral; there was no apartheid, no segregation like we have here at Westminster. They were all one body sitting and debating, deliberating together in the national interest, and they had no constitutional crises with each other. Of course it was not always very easy for Scottish Peers to get to Parliament whenever it met, but I certainly think there is a case for providing, in the national interest, that all future hereditary Scottish Peers should be given the opportunity of becoming non-voting 917 Peers. I think that would be a good thing for Scotland and for the United Kingdom, and I should like to put it to the Government that the ancient duty of Peers in Scotland to attend Parliament whenever they could, and to give advice and counsel to the Government on questions of national importance, should still be continued, for all time to come.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF GRYFE
My Lords, I am tempted to pursue the discussion of the rights and privileges of Scottish Peers, but since the noble Earl has indicated that the Scottish Peers will be negotiating with the appropriate authorities for adequate representation of Scottish interests I would be content to leave it there. I would hope, however, that in the reconstituted House—and provision is made in the summary of the conclusions on page 28 thatThe reformed House should include a suitable number of Peers able to speak with authority on the problems and wishes of Scotland …"—all Scottish Peers who would be nominated would be able to fulfil the requirements in this House that are demanded of all other Peers who will deal with affairs in this House. I should not imagine that it was an undue hardship to request that Scottish Peers, along with other Peers, should attend one-third of the Sittings of the House. I think it would be important, too, for noble Lords to try to define what is a Scottish Peer, because in recent meetings of the Scottish Peers there were a fair number of Scottish Peers who had a somewhat remote connection with Scotland. I leave the matter there because, as I say, it is to be discussed with the Scottish Peers Association and their representatives.
I want to deal this evening with the basic issues that arise in this White Paper, and I hope that none of the noble Lords from Scotland will feel induced to vote against the Motion because there are no specific provisions in the White Paper for the rights of Scottish Peers. I think it would be unfortunate if this major constitutional reform were not to be seen in the broader context of changing the Parliamentary system, the legislative machine in this country. I am a new Member of this House, and I have not been in the House sufficiently long to develop the kind of attachment that 918 Members have who have enjoyed the privilege of sitting here for many years. I can readily understand the affection in which noble Lords hold this House. They can recall the memorable debates, the distinguished Members and the wise counsel given from time to time, and I can understand, therefore, some reluctance to change.
I can also understand that in another place there is a good deal of resentment against this House. I read with great interest the Record of the debate held yesterday, and could sense a certain feeling towards this House, where Members do not have to respond so readily to the crack of the Party Whip or face the rigours of re-election, or suffer the exertions of pressure groups from the constituencies. I noticed that someone in the other House said that this White Paper represented a conspiracy between the two Front Benches. It would in tact be a great tragedy if this measure were to be defeated by a coalition of the extreme Conservative elements in this country who hesitate to change, and the extreme Left-Wing elements who resent the very existence of the House of Lords. I hope, therefore, that this House will take a balanced and reasonable view of the White Paper, and at this stage will not pursue some of the minor criticisms which they have but will concentrate on this measure as an important change in constitutional government.
I have said that I have not been in this House sufficiently long to develop the kind of affection and attachment that other Members have, but since I have become a Member I have learned to respect certain practices in the House which require to be and should be preserved. I respect the good manners which are shown in the debates and discussion, and the general relations within the House. I respect its generosity; I respect its fairness and its freedom from acrimony in debating the political issues which come before us. I hope that, whatever changes may be implemented by the Bill which will follow the White Paper, none of these practices and standards will be impaired. I know, of course, that these attitudes are not imposed on the House; they grow out of the traditions, the time honoured practices of this Chamber.
I realise that something would be lost in the House of Lords if we were to be 919 transformed into a replica of the House of Commons, if nominated Peers were tied too firmly to Party loyalties and we were expected to "rubber stamp" all Government legislation. I am a Life Peer and presumably would be one of the new breed who would exercise voting powers in the House. But the fact that Life Peers do not have to face the pressures which are normal in the case of a Member of another place, particularly if he is to secure re-election there, would, I think, guarantee the objectivity and integrity of Life Peers. This would affect their judgment and I think avoid the possibility of this House becoming simply a replica of the House of Commons.
While I have said that it would be unfortunate if certain practices in this House were not maintained, at the same time I feel that we must recognise the need for change. The reputation and respect which this House enjoys would be tarnished if we did not recognise the need for change. The weight of legislation to-day, the involvement of the Government in so many areas of our economic as well as our social and cultural life, requires that we should take a close look at the whole machinery of government.
I have not the experience of many noble Lords who have participated with such distinction in this most important debate, but as a newcomer I must say that I find some of the procedures in our Governmental machinery inefficient, and wasteful of the time and energy of noble Lords who carry out their duties in this House. I am sure the experience of the long Sittings in the detailed examination of the Transport Bill is still very much with us. Noble Lords in all parts of the House undertook the duty of examining this important legislation in every detail, and in some cases submitting quite reasonable Amendments to the Bill. These were taken to another place and looked at, and the Bill was returned to us intact. And noble Lords who had exercised their interest, their time and their energy in this matter simply had to accept the position. I feel that the new proposals contained in the White Paper will give this House more significance and more authority.
920 I was interested in the speech made in another place yesterday by Mr. Maudling, in which he said that the built-in Conservative majority has made it more difficult to oppose measures proposed by a Labour Government, and a more rationally constructed House would not suffer in this way. I believe that to be true; that if this were a much more rationally constructed House we should be able to exert more authority and more influence in the Parliamentary processes.
As someone who has come recently to this House I find that there is a good deal of time wasting, and I am sure that the desire to attract young people to service in the House of Lords would be affected by this situation. If young people are anxious to serve, they are anxious that their services shall be meaningful, that they have a sense of fulfilment and that they are making a contribution. I should imagine that the present machinery in the House and the general machinery of government in Westminster is not the kind of thing that would attract imaginative young people. So the change visualised in this White Paper will not discourage the service of young people in this House. On the contrary, by the fact that it is made less time-consuming and more effective it is more likely to attract young people.
I come to this House from industry, and I still have a substantial interest in earning my living in industry. If there is one thing that politicians have demanded of industry in recent years it is that it should be modern, efficient and competitive. It would be somewhat unfortunate if our law-making institutions were to resist the kind of changes that are visualised in this White Paper, particularly to-day, when the State is so much involved in setting the climate for industrial progress, by its controls, by its incentives, by its own massive investments. It is important that the State itself and the machinery of government should take to heart the lessons that it is fond of giving to industrialists to become more efficient.
My Lords, it has been said that if we adopted these changes, and abolished the hereditary principle, we should in some strange way be weakening the power of the House and giving the Executive excessive control. I cannot follow this argument. I should imagine that 921 if we had nominated Life Peers deeply involved in the day-to-day work of this House that would be a much safer barrier against the encroachments of the Executive than the present Chamber is.
I hope that the Government will not run away from the proposition, which has aroused a good deal of discussion in another place and also in this Chamber, that Peers should be paid. I think it essential that we should be able to nominate Peers who will find it possible to serve. The argument used to be applied in the House of Commons that Members there should not be paid. This restricted the opportunity of recruiting men and women to serve us in the House of Commons. I hope that the same principles will be observed here as are observed there. If we are in fact to nominate Peers and recruit them from all walks of life, so that this House becomes a much more representative body, we should not so construct the rules as to exclude some people from such notable public service.
A great deal has been said in this debate by abolitionists, by people who like the Senate form of government, or regional representation, or by people like my noble friend Lord Brockway who wanted this to become another British Association and a general forum for debate. It seems to me that all noble Lords who pursue their pet hobbyhorse in this way are missing the point. The issue before the House is surely this: that we approve in general the reforms included in the White Paper, and if we do not accept these reforms then there is no alternative before us. We should in fact be inhibiting the whole process of Parliamentary reform of which this is part; and it would be a most serious responsibility on the part of noble Lords if they were to defeat and impede this first step towards the whole reform of the Parliamentary machine at Westminster.
This White Paper has been regarded in some areas as an unsatisfactory compromise and a coalition, but this should not hide the very important changes and reforms that are involved. The break with the hereditary principle, the limit on delaying powers—which I regard as of great importance because, let us face it, my Lords, the powers presently in the hands of the House of Lords could re 922 strict substantially the term of office of any Government—andthe steps to ensure that the Government have adequate representation in this Chamber, show that considerable progress has been made. I hope that these proposals will be approved and that they will bring to this House a new vitality, while at the same time retaining some of the virtues which make the House of Lords so important in constitutional government.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has covered the wider field of this reform proposal, because it enables me to save the time of the House by going straight to the White Paper itself. In general, I am very much in favour of the proposals in the White Paper, and shall have no hesitation in supporting them. I think the two-tier structure is an attractive one, not simply for its short-term usefulness in making simpler the transition from a hereditary House to a reformed House, but because the two-tier system offers long-term advantages and gives us many options to adopt in the future for reorganisations of our composition. It has that flexibility, and it also has another very great advantage, in that the two tiers roughly correspond with the two main functions which are performed in this House—the legislative function, on the one hand, and the deliberative function, on the other.
The voting and non-voting Peers and their relationship are a rather difficult problem, and I do not feel that the proposals in the White Paper quite fit in with the two functions which they are mainly designed to perform. To take the voting Peers first, in paragraph 17 reference is made to the "nucleus of experienced parliamentarians" on whom the burden of the legislative function must necessarily fall. I think we all know very well how many experienced parliamentarians we have who devote a very large part of their time to this work; and very fortunate we are to have them. We have no statistics to show how many could really be considered to form that category, nor how much of their time they have to give up to this work. But I should be very surprised if the busiest of them had an attendance record of much less than 75 923 per cent., although that is only a guess which may be right or wrong. What strikes me is that there is a tremendously big gap between that figure and the 33⅓per cent. attendances which are to be called for from the voting Peers.
This will not be a very popular suggestion, particularly in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said, but I think that 33⅓ per cent. is too low an attendance for voting Peers; not too high. I base this only on observation and partly on my own experience. I have been maintaining just about that record during the last Session—possibly a little more—and I find that, while one can hope on that basis to attend Second Readings and debates on Motions for Papers in which one wishes to speak or vote, or to attend because one has a particular interest, it is not possible as a general rule to take a really full part in the Commitee stages of Bills on the Floor of the House. In fact, apart from Second Readings, one's attendance at the legislative parts of our Business is largely fortuitous, because when one attends for a Second Reading debate one also attends whatever happens to come before and after it.
It is true that I am what is perhaps called a regional Peer; in other words, I live far outside daily travelling distance from London. For that reason, as I think noble Lords must easily appreciate, the planning of one's programme of attendance is a much more difficult task than for those who live within daily reach of London. One cannot do what so many other noble Lords do, and come in for an afternoon or for a whole day's debate when there is something interesting on, do one's own job in the morning and fill social engagements in the evening, and have the rest of the week to oneself.
If you come from a distance—and I am speaking not only of Scotland, but of the regions of England just as much —you have to say, "Such-and-such a week will be a House of Lords week, and I shall attend three or four days in that week." I am sure that must be a problem which faces all Peers from the more distant regions, and it must also to some extent affect very busy Peers even if they are rather nearer at hand. Therefore, unless my experience is altogether un- 924 typical, I think it will be found that voting Peers who achieve only33⅓ per cent. attendance will be of remarkably little use in the legislative part of our Business, particularly in the grinding work of going through a Committee stage.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount, because he is on a very important point? I had meant to deal with this in the winding-up speech. The purpose of the 33⅓ per cent. rule is to serve as a dropout point if a Peer fails to turn up at all, having undertaken to do so. It is deliberately set at a low level, but there is no doubt that if the voting House, the working nucleus, is to do the sort of work which we see as necessary, then a very much higher attendance is going to be required—the sort of higher attendance which a lot of Peers give, anyway, particularly on Committee work. This figure was set at a low level because there may be certain Peers, particularly Scottish Peers—and this has nothing to do with remuneration—who will need to vote and will turn up for Scottish Business and for whom this figure will meet the requirement. It is a long and involved point, but the noble Viscount is absolutely right in saying that if Peers turned up for only that amount of time the idea of this House doing more work would be very mistaken.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
That is exactly the point, my Lords, and I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his intervention. Of course, there is a corollary to this. I presume that in fact an enormous amount of the legislative Business of the House is bound to be done by Peers who live in and near London.
When we turn to non-voting Peers there are again one or two points I think worth considering. Much is made in paragraph 50 of the necessity for representation from the regions, with which I think we all agree. I am not quite sure what is envisaged in the wording of that paragraph. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, has already spoken of the need for attendance of Scottish Peers at Scottish legislation. It is a point with which I do not wish to deal as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has already dealt with it.
However, there is surely another point which I put with some diffidence, which 925 affects the regions, English as well as Scottish or Welsh, and that is that surely it is of great advantage to us to have the advice of people from the regions, not on particularised local regional issues only but on national issues of greater importance. I hope that the many noble Lords who live in the London area will not be offended if I say to them that we who live in the outback feel that a litle breath of fresh air from the opinions that people acquire living there can often do something to freshen up the rather jaded ideas of those whose view of things is largely through the back window of the commuter in front going in and out of London every day. I may be wrong in that, but I think that is a reason for regional representation which is not always fully understood. For that purpose surely it is not necessary to vote. That seems to me a function which can be very well and adequately performed by a non-voting Peer from the regions, who can come and talk as much as he likes in our debates and bring in his breath of fresh air.
There is only one other point to which I should like briefly to refer. There has been some criticism of the statistical tables, if I may call them that, which have been incorporated in the White Paper of the possible voting composition of the reformed House. I think the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, referred to that. Obviously some such calculation must be made, but I hope I am right in thinking that although we must have that as a fall-back safeguard, one should not talk of it as if all our debates, even those which end in a vote, are necessarily going to be conducted strictly on that statistical basis. Following on what, for instance, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said from these Benches yesterday, I hope that there will be sufficient elasticity in the system of Party discipline so that when we are debating subjects which are not of vital importance and various matters on the Committee stages of Bills we shall be able to continue the general practice now and allow a fair amount of latitude. At present the Whips do not try to put across, or perhaps do not succeed in putting across, their views to all the members of their Party in every vote. I make a plea that we shall always have in mind that however professional our voting House becomes, we should preserve as much element of independence 926 to individual Peers as is consistent with good management.
§ 6.44 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I fear I shall not follow the noble Viscount who has just sat down, except in one respect. It is right and pleasing for me to pay tribute to those who have worked so hard and patiently on the Inter-Party Committee which has given Caesarean birth to this White Paper. I hope they—and many of them are my close friends —will consider this gratitude coming from me especially poignant, since I deem about 80 per cent. of their conclusions to be misconceived.
To my surprise, one culpable and besetting truth has been either ignored or disguised by almost every speaker so far in this debate. We are debating the abolition of the House of Lords. Let us not pretend otherwise or assist the Government in their pretence. True enough, we are also debating the creation of a new Second Chamber, but the former proposal must not be, as I see it, concealed by the latter. When the proposals of this White Paper are built into a Bill, it will presumably bear the same sort of euphemistic title as the present document. But this will not be a measure of reform; it will be a Bill to abolish, its effect being camouflaged as the intention is being camouflaged.
The new Chamber, it seems, will be called the House of Lords. The membership may be predominantly the same, at the beginning. But behind these surface similarities the whole character and confidence and tradition of the House will have altered unrecognisably. It is a perfectly fair matter for debate that the House of Lords should be done away with. What seems to me contemptuous and unacceptabe is this attempted political sleight-of-hand, in passing off this epochal altering of the Constitution as if it were no more than a tactical change.
In case it may be thought that these are the sour words of a man who sees his inherited sinecure being taken away from him, perhaps I can attempt to correct that impression. Eleven years ago I came to this House reluctantly, not to say resentfully. I had been adopted 927 as a prospective candidate, with a by-election imminent, in a constituency which has ever since successfully returned a Conservative Member of Parliament. Unless I had shown myself totally undeserving to the electorate of that division, I should to-day be a Member of another place for a Yorkshire constituency. Of course, I do not doubt they are better off with the Member they have. I have gone into this, because I thought one of the best things a man could do with his life was to represent some of his neighbours in the House of Commons, and I had been happy enough to be chosen for a constituency which I still think of as ideal. In the event, my father died many years earlier than anyone had expected, and so it might be said that my presence here is not so much an "accident of birth", a phrase so often employed, as an "accident of death".
My reason for introducing this admittedly private and individual factor, is to relate that when my father died I considered that my political life was over before it had begun. It was only because some close friends in the House of Commons urged me to take my seat here and, having done so, to take an active part, that I came to respect and indeed to love this House, its work and its endeavours. I suppose I have worked here as hard and enjoyably as I could ever have worked in the House of Commons.
In the years I have been here, unlike the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I have never heard one of my close friends or colleagues in the House suggest that the House was perfect. Not one of them has been afraid of change. Indeed, all of them have sought and supported change. So have I; so do I. In my own relatively short experience, we have carried out important and beneficial reforms to our composition, notably the advent of Life Peers. What is being forced upon us now is not reform; it is abolition and substitution. I am against this upon two principal grounds. It is far too drastic to be carried out without reference to the country by a Government which, we know, do not have the support of the country. I am not referring narrowly to support of their action towards the House of Lords, but to support of any kind. If the Government 928 submitted themselves to-day to the judgment of the people, they would be cast out. They are not the sort of Government which, at this stage, at this nadir of national esteem, are qualified to alter the Constitution so violently, cunningly though that violence may be screened.
What is the urgent requirement for such a drastic change? This is no rhetorical question, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will explain when he winds up. It can hardly be that he and his colleagues feel the pressure of any public indignation or anxiety concerning either the powers or the Constitution of the House of Lords. If they do, they might read a book, lately published, which has already been referred to in this debate, called Angels in Marble by Mr. Robert Mackenzie and Alan Silver, two Professors of Sociology, neither of them, so far as I know, having any Tory affiliations. I will quote only one passage from their findings, in which they state:Conservatives are more likely than Labour voters to approve of the House of Lords as at present organised, yet only one-third of the entire working class sample, and only a slightly higher proportion of Labour voters, favoured abolishing the House of Lords or altering it in any way.The book presents the results of four surveys of working-class opinions in Britain.
Noble Lords opposite may riposte by saying, or more likely by quietly thinking, that working class opinion is "old hat" to the New Socialism. It is the dons and the other intellectuals they look to now. This is a far more convincing source. There is a view, or a vogue, which carries some influence to-day, that because something has lasted a long time, centuries it may be, with the approval and respect of the nation, it must be wrong. This is the sort of Pavlovian reaction we expect from the far Left, but it is strange to find a part of the Conservative Party falling into step with this illusion.
There is another companion fallacy; that of the backwoodsmen thronging in from the shires to occupy strategic Benches on this side of the House. Can it really be that this nightmare disturbs the placid slumbers of the noble Lord, the Leader of the House? I can think of many things which ought to disturb those slumbers, but not that. My noble friend 929 Lord Jellicoe described this phenomenon wittily, yesterday, as "St. Aldwyn's overkill". Whoever believes in "St. Aldwyn's over-kill", it is not St. Oswald, nor, I hazard, is it Lord Shackleton. That bogey cannot excuse the measures before us.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, opening to-day's debate, gave us a reason for these changes by quoting paragraph 4 of the White Paper, and in particular, I take it, sub-paragraph (c) permitting the more efficient working of Parliament, and (b) to increase the effectiveness of the House of Lords. But nothing written into the White Paper increases the effectiveness; there is a decrease in powers. The reference to an increase in influence is parenthetical and theoretical. It is a carrot— a floating carrot— which does not convince me. He avouched to-day that the proposals would produce a House which can perform its present role, and more. But would they? I say that they would not, because this will become a puppet House, and we have never before performed as puppets.
If I may address myself for a moment to those who believe, when invited to, that, "This is the best that we can get", I would say that this is a thoroughly bad reason for voting against your own judgment. This is "over-the-brinkmanship", because we shall be surrendering something which belongs, not to us, but to our country, and which would never be recovered. To my mind, this is about the worst that we could get. We are being bluffed by a discredited Government into something which is utterly wrong.
Who is to say what will be obtainable to-morrow or in two years' time, when the present Government have been electorally as well as morally discarded? It must be something better than this, for this is a bad substitute for the present House, something for which there is no mandate. The last Labour Manifesto contained a passage on "Legislation to safeguard measures approved by the House of Commons from frustration or delay by the House of Lords". What frustration and what delay have they suffered? I can fairly accept it in the case of the Stansted Airport Order, where they must have been very grateful for the delay. It might be more convincingly and woundingly argued that we had been too timid in the use of the powers we possess to protect the country from legis 930 lation which will damage its interests and prospects. The outside criticism which I have heard most often is that we have been too easily daunted by threats and strictures. We have been almost as demure in our relations with another place as that sensitive damsel, Alice:Oh, don't you remember Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?Sweet Alice, whose hair was so brown,Who wept with delight if you gave her a smile,And trembled with fear at your frown?I confess that inwardly I find it rather hard to identify myself with this bashful disposition, but in the measures being proposed in this White Paper it would become the statutory attitude of this House.
Many noble Lords have spoken about the new two-tier system as introducing the concept of first-class and second-class Peers. But, definitively, of course, it could no longer be called the House of Peers, since the meaning of Peer is "an equal in standing or rank". It is deceptive to suggest that there will be nothing invidious in being allowed to speak but not to vote. If a man is worth listening to, why should he not have the right to vote? The idea seems to be rooted in the belief that he will not mind being rendered impotent so long as he is not rendered speechless as well. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred lo the upper tier as a "hard core of legislators". I wonder how he would wish to identify the non-voting Members. Would "pulp" appeal to him as the appropriate term?
That is not the gravest humiliation involved. What is proposed, instead of a control of the hereditary principle, is a House of Nominees. The first most massive single batch of all, is to be nominated by Mr. Harold Wilson. Thereafter, as Governments change, after General Elections, the opposing sides will be topped up by "trusties" from elsewhere, pledged to give the new Government a safe majority. Yet, in paragraph 25, under the heading of "Principles of Reform", we are told that the first of these principles is:that if a reformed House is to have the influence which a Second Chamber requires, it must possess a degree of genuine independence.My Lords, what cant—what entertaining cant! There is no intention to grant independence. It is a plan to impose 931 conformity, so dear to the heart of the autocrat.
I have called it politely a House of Nominees. Yesterday in another place a Labour Member, a former Minister, said that it would be a House not of Lords but of Lackeys. I believe that this is the intention, thinly disguised, in this White Paper. The White Paper is not a result of political reasoning. It is political expostulation and experiment. Some noble Lords have said, "We must make a start somewhere." This seems to me both percipient and ominous, because this is only a start, drastic as it is. When this fails, as fail it will, other expostulation and experiments will occur as foreshadowed in Appendix II, which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor specifically exhorted us to read.
I oppose this, as I said, on two principal grounds. First, because nothing so drastic is demanded or justified, and because nothing relating to powers or composition was included in the Labour Manifesto of 1966; secondly, because what is put forward is bad in every sense for the country we serve. What is being urged upon us is a bad substitute for what we have and, more important, for what we are able to give. This has been, and is to-day, a good workshop, no doubt with room for improvement. Set before us now is a demolition order, and a plan to put hastily and experimentally in its place something totally unsatisfactory.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his opening sentences yesterday, declared that he rejected abolition, and then proceeded to advocate it under another name. Should we show ourselves complaisant in our own destruction, we shall earn that destruction. We shall be remembered as the lemming legislators of the late twentieth century. If there is a Division to-morrow, as I trust there will be, it will give us an opportunity to vote against that abolition. If it is the last Lobby I ever march through in this House, I shall be there.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I am sure the whole House has immensely enjoyed, as I have, the speech of the noble Lord opposite. Equally, I am sure that if they could speak the ossified 932 gentlemen standing in niches around this Chamber would give him hearty approval, because from time to time, if they are conscious at all, they must be very concerned at the steady transformation of a House which at one time they looked upon as one of the great authorities of this country. The noble Lord who spoke last must realise—he probably does—that the beginning of what he assumes to be a tragedy was in the early part of this century, when there came the limitation on the power of this House to obstruct legislation from the other House. This, no doubt, was received at the time as a piece of gross impertinence on the part of the democratically-elected other House; but that was the beginning. Since that time, many other incidents have taken place which I am sure have deeply stirred the noble Lord, and perhaps others as well.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, if the noble Lord will be good enough to allow me to say so, I think he could not have understood me, no doubt because I explained myself badly. I do not oppose reform: I just oppose bad reform. And I am not "hooked" on heredity.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I appreciate that, but I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me that from his standpoint the proposals in the White Paper are a bad change.
§ LORD SORENSEN
That is why I assumed that the noble and (as I called them) ossified gentlemen would feel the same. There are certain affinities between us all, both those contemporary and those of the past. May I also remind the noble Lord that the introduction of Life Peerages was another erosion of the ancient authority of this House? It was the establishment of a two-tier system. The hereditaries, who still predominate—
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, the noble Lord must recognise that in my speech I described the introduction of Life Peerages as beneficial.
§ LORD SORENSEN
I am sure the whole of the noble Lord's speech was beneficial. It benefited me enormously, 933 because I greatly enjoyed it; and I shall read it with very great care to-morrow morning in Hansard as being the sincere and fluent expression of one point of view in this House. All I am endeavouring to suggest now to the noble Lord and others is that the reforms which are proposed in the White Paper are simply a continuation of what has begun already. It began, indeed, at the beginning of the century. The noble Lord spoke about the White Paper anticipating, or indeed proposing, the abolition of this House, but I would not go so far as that. I would rather suggest that it is one more instalment in the steady transformation of this House, so as to bring it more in accordance with modern thought and modern thinking.
During the many years that I was in the other House, one of the chores that I and others had to do from time to time was to take parties round the Houses of Parliament and describe their wonders—including, of course, the wonder of this particular establishment. I remember that on one occasion an American gentleman said to me, rather caustically, "How can you call your country democratic when you have, on the one hand, a Royal Family and, on the other hand, a House of Lords?". I explained to him, perhaps rather facetiously, that we kept the House of Lords going for the sake of American tourists, because they are fascinated by our pageantry and our history. Some of our venerable pageantry is far superior and much more impressive than the rather brash and flamboyant exhibitionism that I and others have seen in America.
I say that because all of us appreciate the historical background of this House. Those of us who have read, even in an amateur way, the development of the thought of mankind and its various institutions must have a certain respect for this place. I will not go so far as my noble friend Lord Longford, and admit that I was ecstatic when I came here. On the contrary, I was interested, I was amused; and indeed I enjoy from time to time the atmosphere of courteous urbanity, in striking contrast to what is euphemistically called "the cut-and-thrust of debate", in which a certain speaker urged us to engage, in the other House—too reminiscent to me, I am 934 afraid, of a cavalry charge at Balaclava, with sundry bayonets and sabres flashing in the air. I like this House because we can talk things over in a civilised way. We do not engage so much in the cut-and-thrust of debate unless, of course, we cover the cut and the thrust when they are made—and they are made from time to time.
I am equally glad, as are others on this side of the House who have been in the other place, that we have an opportunity to speak whenever we wish, which explains the long list of 120 Peers who desire to participate in this debate, even though it may be at about two or three o'clock in the morning. I would say that one of the contributions we might make to a reform of this House is to devise some means by which we can avoid being drowned in untrammelled verbosity: to devise, for instance, a means by which we allocate to every Member three solid hours of debating opportunity, shall we say, during the year. He can split it up in any way he pleases—half-an-hour, ten minutes or whatever the case may be. If that were done it would have a certain advantage, because I am quite certain that some, like myself no doubt, get so fascinated by our freedom to speak, as compared with the other House, that we overlook the fact that perhaps some things can go too far. I do not propose to go too far to-night because I want to get home, as others do, as early as I possibly can for a meal and a little rest.
Certainly I welcome this White Paper, as I hope most Members here do, not because it is the end of the process which has been taking place for over fifty years, but as one instalment. I visualise—indeed, I am certain it is inevitable—further great changes taking place; but I agree that this is a compromise, and because it is a compromise at this juncture we shall avoid diverting the attention of the public mind away from much more serious issues. I would say, Certainly let us take this. It is either this or nothing for some years to come." I say that because I do not want to see the abolition of the Second Chamber. Far from it! I have always believed in a bicameral Constitution. I think a House like ours has a great function to fulfil, when we can have those with more leisure and a background of life experience to give the best of their knowledge 935 and experience to us, when we can look through the legislation of the so-called Lower House and advise that, here and there, improvement or rectification may be possible. All this is extremely valuable, and I want it to continue. But in these days, can anyone justify the continuation of the hereditary principle as the dominating principle in this establishment? If we want to be peaceful, therefore, it is better to take this compromise, reached by inter-Party discussion, as a very wise way by which we can move onwards into the 21st century.
May I say, in regard again to another interesting observation by the noble Lord opposite, that quite possibly a large number appear not to be interested in this House and do not want it changed because they are no longer troubled, as they once were, by the obstructive possibilities of this House. They are now just bored. Among those I have talked to I have found again and again that they are not concerned with this House so long as it cannot do the damage which, as they thought, it could do some years ago. Therefore, I want to see this matter settled for the time being so that we can get on to more important matters.
Now very briefly, succinctly and tersely, may I make one or two suggestions regarding the White Paper as it is? I have spoken of the necessity of a Second Chamber on a non-hereditary basis. In regard to patronage, I see no objection to patronage, because it is inevitable and inescapable. Democracy, in which I thoroughly believe, can, like everything else, go too far. It can run riot. I remember being in California some years ago when they were engaged in an election not only for their President but for 40 other necessities. They had to vote on whether they wanted a post office, a judge and a local convenience. There were 40 different gaps in this long screed of paper on which they had to put their mark. Even then they had to leave much to be decided by individuals. I hope we shall never get to that stage. And let us realise that democracy involves the depositing of responsibility on individuals. We must scrutinise them; and we must be vigilant lest they are corrupt or exploit their stewardship. But if democracy cannot trust individuals to perform 936 tasks for their country, then indeed it is hardly worth preserving.
After all, patronage is exercised when the Prime Minister chooses certain Members of both Houses for his Cabinet. There is no group of people who, by democratic discussion and debate, ultimately decide who shall head this or that Department of State. It would be as absurd as to have a committee on a ship arguing with the captain as to how he should navigate. If that were practised, we should all be on the rocks in no time at all. So certainly, let us leave patronage; let it be wise; let it be all-Party and let the patron himself be open to criticism, but do not let us assume that we can run our country and appoint people to responsible positions, all the while suspecting them of being rogues. Rather, let us assume the reverse; that they want to do the best they can and therefore appoint the best people they can to this House when the opportunity occurs.
The second thing I should like to say is in regard to our noble friends who are here to-day represented by one right reverend Prelate but who have been here in greater numbers during the day. I cannot see in these days why the Prelates themselves should be in this House at all as Prelates. I am sure they will not be disturbed at this. I know the long history of the Church of England; I know how there came to be 26 Bishops sent here; I know the tension that existed between at one time the Church Catholic on the one hand and the State on the other. I know that at one time the Church had an infinitely greater authority than it has now. One remnant of that is the fact that our monarchs are always crowned at Westminster Abbey and also that one of the Bishops, rightly, comes here every day and for our benefit says Prayers. I know it partly because, though it may seem strange, at one time I was a priest of a church more ancient than the Church of England although perhaps not as ancient as the Church of Rome. This led me to study a little of the history of ecclesiasticism, the relations between Church and State. But all this has gone. It is effete.
I am glad, of course, that the right reverend Prelates are here. Indeed, when I listen to them I am always impressed by their wisdom and by their spiritual 937 insight—which is a contrast to the behaviour of some of their predecessors of, say, a hundred years ago. They are certainly erasing many of the blots in their copybook. So far as our present Prelates are concerned, I not only have no criticism of them but I greatly admire their forward-looking views. But that does not justify their being here as Prelates. If it did, why not representatives of the Free Churches, why not of the Jews and, for that matter, of the Sikhs—we have 100,000 of them here now—and why not the Muslims, the Hindus, or, indeed, the Humanists? All these are worthy men; the best of them could be here. I do not myself favour the appointment of ecclesiastical representatives. That being so, the best thing is that for the time being a certain number should be here for old times' sake. But in the end they can be appointed on their own merits, whether they be members of the Church of England, the Church of Rome, the Free Churches, the Jewish faith or any other faith. I say again that I want to assure the right reverend Prelates who are here that I have the greatest appreciation of the history of their Church and of the witness that the right reverend Prelates are making to-day.
The second point is in regard to the vexed question of the payment of Peers. I agree that Peers who are here—unlike some in the past who had no need to worry about pecuniary assistance—need assistance from time to time. But if the suggestion has been made that there should be as much as two-thirds of the amount given to the other House, I beg Members to think again. Having had experience of the other House I say that the work of the average Member of Parliament and that of the average Peer cannot be compared. The amount of correspondence with which Members of the Commons have to deal, the avalanche of pitiful cases brought to them—those two functions alone make them quite different from Members of this House, none of whom in his capacity as a Peer has to deal with constituency problems and a great volume of correspondence. Because of that, I would suggest that if payment is to be made it should be substantially less than that paid to the hardworking Members of the other place.
My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that there is much else in my notes on 938 which I should have liked to speak, but it would be unfair for me to go on. I have spoken too long already—I have already suggested that we suffer from excessive verbosity. I trust that we shall take the opportunity as one where peaceably, sanely, with civilised agreement among ourselves, we can press on from the past into the future. We have gone a long way already and I want to see us going much further. If in this House we can unanimously agree, with one or two exceptions as evidenced tonight, then I am sure it will be a great contribution to the future sane discussions of the great problems of our country.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ LORD RATHCAVAN
My Lords, in the Preamble to the Parliament Act of 1911 it was stated:… whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords … a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis …That was 57 years ago. Since then quite a lot has been done towards reform, but the hereditary principle has not really been dealt with until the present proposals. As regards what has happened, the powers of this Chamber have been further reduced, Life Peers have been created, women have been admitted, permission to renounce Peerages has been given and we have initiated a system for granting leave of absence to Peers. The great majority of this House still consists of the hereditary Peers and the present scheme deals with this aspect of the matter. In these modern days I do not think that you can justify giving anybody the right to be a member of the, Legislature simply because he is the son of his father. The scheme we are discussing to-day provides for the gradual phasing out of the hereditary Peers, which will be accomplished over, I suppose, the next one of two generations. And it does this with the least possible disturbance to the present construction of this House.
The two-tier system is an ingenious one. In my view it has certain advantages. First of all, it has been agreed upon by a Committee consisting of members of the main political Parties. Secondly, it provides an easy way out for the hereditary Peers. Thirdly, it leaves this House without much visible change for probably quite a long time. But how far the new voting House will conform to 939 the Preamble of the Parliament Act 1911 as being constituted on a popular basis, I am not quite sure. Possibly not; or not very much, since all its Members will have been nominated. Surely "a popular basis", which was in the Preamble of the 1911 Act, presupposes some kind of election. That was clearly contemplated in 1911. But now election seems to be ruled out. I do not know why, because in great democracies such as the United States of America and Australia they have a system of election of their Second Chambers. It seems to me that our House of Commons is much more tenacious of its powers than is the case in many other democracies.
If we rule out election, I do not see what alternative there is except some form of nomination. Personally I do not very much like the idea that this should be solely the prerogative of the Prime Minister of the day. Could it not be done by some committee or panel of people? The voting House would consist, apart from a number of Peers selected from the hereditary Peers, of Life Peers and Peers of first creation. The advantage of this is that all nominated Peers now sitting in this House have a record of some kind of past distinguished political service. The disadvantage is that the very fact that they are people of long public service must mean that they cannot be young men or women.
Therefore I think it is very necessary that there should be a number of young Peers among those who would be in the new voting House. I was surprised to hear that there are very few young Peers among the hereditary Peers who would be eligible for the voting House. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said there were only one or two under 30 and a few under 40. I must say that I never realised that, and if that is the case, then surely among the nominated Peers there must be nominated a number of younger men, who, of course, will not have the background of public service which most Life Peers have had hitherto. But I feel strongly—and I know that this is the almost unanimous view of your Lordships' House—that the voting House of the future should contain quite a large number of younger Peers.
940 It has been emphasised in the White Paper that it is desirable to have some Peers sitting in the voting House with special knowledge of the different parts of the United Kingdom. So far as Northern Ireland is concerned, I would suggest that some of these might be found from among the Irish Peers with Ulster connections who no longer are represented here as they used to be.
Although this is not strictly part of the reform of the House of Lords, I was delighted to see that at long last all Peers are to be given the vote at Parliamentary elections. This disqualification was based on a supposed archaic law going back to feudal times. The extraordinary thing to me is that it should have lasted so long with hardly any protest. It is high time that Peers no longer are classed with lunatics and aliens. I do not suppose that the present scheme will be a final settlement. As it goes on, there are sure to be alterations and amendments. But, in all the circumstances, it is in my opinion well worth a trial and I shall certainly vote in favour of the Motion moved by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I think it will be accepted as one of the facts of life that all social and political institutions can be divided into three classes. There are those which it would be essential to invent, if they did not exist already. There are those which exist already but have no particular function and which nobody in their senses would invent, but which we do not feel able to destroy. The third class are those which are over-ripe and are ready to be cast away.
One of the remarkable things about Second Chamber Government is that we never now hear any serious argument as to whether a Second Chamber is necessary. We all take the view that Second Chambers, whatever their curious shortcomings, belong to the second class. They are there because they are there, and because they are there we must keep them there, though they may have to be modified. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said that all experience in countries abroad, except for a few small countries like New Zealand, established the proposition (I am not quoting his exact words) that a Second 941 Chamber is essential. I would venture, with great respect, to say that experience is not really a good test, because those countries which have a bicameral Legislature have riot experimented with the unicameral system and therefore cannot say whether it would be better or worse.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that we could not have single Chamber Government because the electorate did not want it. That again seems to me to be a sweeping statement and not in the nature of a serious argument. I should very much like to hear a serious argument why a Second Chamber is necessary. It seems to me that we are rapidly getting into the position that we take it as an axiom and go around scratching our heads and asking who on earth we are going to put in it. So it is suggested to put in representatives of the regions or of professional bodies or of the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. We must have someone somehow to fill it. That seems to be the basis of the position we have got to, and I should like to hear some serious argument on it.
I have never quite understood the idea that if we take one set of people and sit them in one room on green benches and another set of people and sit them in another room on red benches, the collective wisdom of the two bodies taken together is thereby increased. If we are determined to have a Second Chamber, I suggest that there is a very simple way of doing it—that is, the way they do it in Norway, where they elect Parliament as a whole and Parliament thereafter divides itself into two Chambers, so that they get this mystique of being in separate rooms although in fact they have been elected as a unitary body.
I recognise that if we were to abolish this House it would be necessary to make some pretty considerable changes in the procedure of another place. They might have to engage in more Committee work. The number of Members might have to be increased until they were as numerous as those of the two Houses put together, at least as they would be under the White Paper scheme. They might have to read Bills four times instead of three. But I should have thought that they could make the changes which would make it possible for them to discharge the extra burden of work.
942 But if this House is to continue in any shape or form I should like to feel that it will have some really sensible and intelligible function. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, who indicated that we were in effect abolishing it. At the same time, he said that we were going to be reduced to puppets; and I think he said, "Puppets we never have been". It seems to me that we are in our legislative functions very nearly puppets, or, as I would say, we are constantly performing a ritual dance.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the great majority of the Amendments to Bills passed in your Lordships' House are welcomed in the other place as being obvious improvements. But, of course, the reason for that is that the great majority of Amendments moved in this House are withdrawn because they are unacceptable to the Government, and only a small number of Amendments are carried in this House against the wishes of the Government. When that happens, we then perform our ritual dance. The amended Bill is sent back to the Commons, and the Commons put it back exactly as it was; they return it to us, and we graciously give in. This occupies a large part of our time. It seems to me that all this is in the nature of a ritual dance, and I find it a very curious way to spend one's life—moving Amendments which you know are unacceptable to the other place, and which you know the other place will turn down, and knowing also that when they turn them down you will accept their decision.
Having said that, my Lords, I shall feel reluctantly obliged to support the White Paper. I realise that mine is a voice crying in—well, I cannot exactly call your Lordships' House a wilderness, but, at any rate, it is a voice which certainly has some echoes in another place. I shall reluctantly support the White Paper, because it seems to me the only way in which we can move in a direction which will make this House slightly less absurd than it is now, although it will make it absurd in a rather different way.
It seems to me to be one of the facets of the British way of life that, before any rational step is taken, it must be preceded by an irrational compromise, and 943 a suitable interval has to be allowed between these two phases. One conspicuous example of that, which some of your Lordships will remember, was that when women were first enfranchised they were enfranchised at the age of 30, while men had the vote at the age of 21. I regard the White Paper as a compromise with about that degree of rationality. I do not see any great future for it, although I admire the ingenuity of those who have devised it. I think it is an astonishing performance. It is a step which will last for a few years, and an irrational compromise at the moment which may, with luck, be converted into a rational solution later on.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, I was very interested in what the noble Baroness had to say. I remembered, as she was talking, that I noticed in the papers that there was an election in America the other day. I was glad to see that the gentleman got in, because he had stood twice, and anybody who stands twice to become a probable human target deserves to get in. I did notice—and I counted the votes—that the majority of the people had voted against him. That is the reason why I fancy a Second Chamber, which I think is essential to discuss the laws, can never be made by election: because so many people, the people who lose, do not vote for it, and therefore do not want the people who are in it. So it has to be made in some other way.
My Lords, I am amazed by the White Paper. I read it through and I looked at the date on it to see what year it was. I cannot understand it at all. It is about heredity, but there is no mention about genetics, from beginning to end. It is perfectly fantastic. You would think that Gregor Johann Mendel, the Liberal Research stations of my youth that I used humbly to support, which have now grown into great palaces of genetic research covering the whole of the world, and all the discoveries of doctors recently about these hereditary deficiency inheritances, might never have been done at all. I might just as well be back at my old school in 1908 and 1909, when we were still arguing about design or natural selection. Actually, Gregor Johann Mendel did not swim into my 944 ken until I was about 20. Then I read a book about Mendelism, which was published I think in 1911, and once I had read that I went straight away—I was a keen fancier of rabbits, pigeons and so on—and started to experiment on them. And I got fantastic results, as I thought in those days. I have believed in the genetic principle ever since. It is part of one's life; it is one's life.
I, in those early days, naturally thought of Mendel's theory (which was Mendelism in those days) as being applied solely to plants and animals. I thought that human beings were a bit different. It seems funny to say that now, but it is true. I thought this until one day I rang up my current girl friend on the telephone and talked to her, telling her how charming she was. I mentioned all sorts of private things to her, and I suddenly realised that I was talking to her mother. When I met her grandmother I found that she had the same enchanting voice. About thirty years after that I was taking a party to a dance, and having danced with the different girls in the party I went to the bar and I heard a voice behind me. I turned round and went up to the young girl and said: "How is your mother?" And I was right. The voice had gone on to the other generation. Once you have done that, you have at once spotted these characters, which I would describe as rather like a broken groove in a record, or now I would describe them as like a tape loop. They just play over the same thing. This morning in my bathroom in the club I found a scallop shell ashtray. Well, that design has been played over that tape loop through geological times. These things are permanent; they cannot be destroyed; they can only be marred. They are always there.
After a rather hectic form of life, I settled down to farm my estate, and naturally genetics came in a great deal. In farming it is fairly simple stuff it is not like recognising complicated things, because you have your milk records, you have to weigh your pigs, and so on. It is fairly difficult to spot what you want, but having an eye for genetics I often spot it, and other things in animals that people did not suspect. For instance, I have four herds of cows, about 52 cows in each herd, and sometimes they were put 945 together and I noticed the leadership quality coming out. Out of a herd of about 50 cows there would be four with leadership qualities, and these four would fight it out among themselves in a quite friendly way, with the other cows watching them. One of them won, she became the leader of the herd, and they all followed her.
Now that instinct is no earthly use to you if you are breeding cows, but if you are breeding racehorses it is what you want. In my youth there was a horse—it was about the first bet that I ever had —either in 1911 or 1912, called The Peacock. The Peacock was a foal brought up in a deer park in Ireland, divided from the deer by a fence, and it used to race the deer up the other side of the fence. It had this leadership quality, and on the racecourse it was never beaten as a two-year old. In one race it was left at the post, but it caught all the other horses and won the race. Unfortunately, it had a genetic fault—I think it was something to do with its bone structure—and it broke down before it became a three-year old. Of its progeny, I remembers (it is rather a long time ago) one called Satrap. There was another grey horse, which was a good horse, and this horse also had this leadership thing. It won every race it went into, but I think it broke down in the last race of its two-year old career when this genetic fault in the bones came up.
I am fortunate, in a way, in having a cricket team of grandchildren whom I can look at and in whom I can see all these genetic characteristics coming out. It is quite fascinating. It is rather like looking into a magic pool, in a sort of misty country. You suddenly see a gesture coming up in the pool that you can trace back to your grandfather, or you can see a smile, or all sorts of peculiarities. What about the bad characteristics? I have two—well, my wife has one, and I have one: mine is a sort of bodily obstruction which forms croup—and it is a nasty thing to have; you choke a lot—and my wife has hay fever running in her family which has passed through the children to two grandchildren. They having got those which they were going to get anyway; you may as well know what they are going to get—you then look for these more or less fantasies, like the leadership quality. You 946 see them coming up like loops of tape. They just play a sort of design and then fade away again. It is fascinating. You are hoping to get some good ones.
I do not want to speak for too long. I think that everybody says that and then speaks for hours. I get so interested in what I am talking about. I will tell your Lordships about one character, to try to show you what these characters are like. My wife has it: the character for counting. If we have been driving about in a car—she has been driving or I have been driving—at home, with a lot of traffic in the roads, we shall have been talking about this and that; and when we have come to the end of our journey I have said to her, "How many cars did we pass?". She will say, "268 cars, 114 lorries, 22 double-decker buses in a station"—and so on and so forth— "2 articulated lorries, 8 motor bicycles and 2 pushbikes"—the lot. When we got to the Isle of Man I wondered whether this counting thing would come out again. There are pretty well no cars there. You drive along lovely roads. I noticed that when she was in the mountainous districts she was always looking at the banks. I soon found out that she was looking for blaeberries. In the blaeberry season she goes out in the car and picks blaeberries, and makes jam out of them, which is very good. One day I said to her, "How many blaeberries did you pick to-clay?" She said, "1,068".
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would excuse my interrupting for one moment?
§ LORD STRANGE: Of course.
§ LORD BESWICK
I am sure that the whole House is on absolute tenterhooks, wanting to know how this story works out. But staff do have to be kept here until one or two o'clock in the morning, and I wonder if we might have some regard to the length of time the debate is going to take.
§ LORD STRANGE
I apologise, my Lords. I got carried away with myself. I will not say another word. Well, I shall have to finish somewhere. I cannot leave my speech in the air. I am very sorry; I got carried away. These genetic things are of course very important, and they are all about this House; and it should be, in my opinion, genetically 947 reformed. The way it should be genetically reformed is, first of all, that all Peers of first creation should be made hereditary. They should look among their children, like the Aga Khan did with his child. He missed out his son in favour of his grandson, because he knew. He was a good judge of racehorses, and he knew he had the right connections. They should choose a child who they think represents the characters for which they were created, remembering that we are, all of us, almost entirely automatic; we depend entirely on these characters and can do nothing without them. When that has been done, this choice should appear in your Lordships' House and have an approved period for which he sits here, after which it should be privately voted on as to whether the House wants him or not. That would be the reform. My Lords, I read this Paper, and it should be about genetics. It seems to me to be the play of Hamlet without Hamlet.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, I will not attempt to follow the noble Lord who preceded me, much though I enjoyed his highly personal speech, as I always do. I should like to start by congratulating the two maiden speakers whom we have heard this afternoon on their excellent speeches. To Lord Burnham we are indebted for the magnificent suggestion that the Government should be kept in a permanent minority in the House of Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, I thought, spoke with great wit and panache, and with feeling, on the heartbreaking hazards of being a young hereditary Peer. Five pounds a day or not, a voting ticket in his pocket or not, I very much hope that we shall hear more from him.
Incidentally, on the subject of payment, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was surely right when he said that the Government should not let this be the breaking point. If this scheme is to go into effect with the question of payment unsettled, though possibly left open, I am sure that if in the future this House proves to be, as is hoped, a great help to another place and to the Back-Benchers in another place, then the Members of this House will not be allowed for long to go without remuneration.
948 This debate has been so varied, with such contradictory suggestions for the modification of the scheme in the White Paper, or for alternatives to it, that it becomes ever more surprising that the three Parties were ever able to agree to the proposals incorporated in the White Paper. Consequently, with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I agree that this opportunity to have an agreed reform of this House is possibly unique in our time.
Although I can understand the boredom that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, expressed with the style of the White Paper, I thought in fact that it was extremely honourable. Indeed, I thought it was one of the most honourable White Papers I had ever read. It avoided the political temptation which it certainly had in the circumstances in which it arose, to present the subject in tone and in terms of political quarrel. But, more than that, I thought it was a remarkable moral achievement for a Government to have produced a document that founded the strength of an institution on an independence from itself. I did not detect, as some other Peers have, a disingenuousness in this, and that this was a veil to some attempt to take over the House of Lords. Very far from it. I thought that in paragraph after paragraph, in proposal after proposal, the determination to make the House of Lords independent from Government control was apparent.
Clearly the Government wish to be protected against charges of excessively increasing patronage. Equally clearly, they have not succeeded in doing so, and I think this is rather surprising. Patronage is objectionable in a political context because it buys votes. That basically is the objection, and that alone. If the House of Lords is roughly to repeat the balance of Parties as exists in the House of Commons—and this is what everybody agrees it should do—then there must be, as indeed there are now, appointments which have the objectionable characteristics of patronage; that is to say, appointments of people whose political affiliations are known, who are advanced to this House because of those affiliations, and who broadly speaking are going to be relied on by their patrons to vote for them. There is no secret about it at all. We are entirely used to this. More or 949 less anybody would agree that this is necessary for a Chamber which is to have a political function.
The Government propose in this White Paper to run the risk of making these Peers non-removable. Again, we are used to this. The Government therefore have no sanction against Members of this House, nor will they have, if they fail to produce their votes for the Government, or indeed for any Party that appointed them. This is of course entirely unlike the House of Commons, where Members run serious risk to their careers if over any period of time, at least, they defy the vote of their Party. It is also worth noting that it is exactly this principle of non-removability that is traditionally held to be sufficient to guarantee the independence of the Judiciary, at all times and in all countries; and what is good enough for a judge, I should have thought, should certainly be good enough for a Peer.
But the Government have taken other precautions. It is not simply that it is not only the Prime Minister who is responsible for appointments. Members in all three Parties are also responsible. But, beyond that, although the figure for the number of Peers to be created might at the start of Parliament exceed what has been the average in the past (the number of 55 Peers created at the start of the 1964 Parliament shows how high the figure has been in the past) in the following years of the Parliament surely the number is bound to he very much lower indeed, because after an Election, when the Prime Minister has brought this House up to the numbers that reflect the balance of the Parties, he just has no leeway and will not be able—as our present Prime Minister has done, for example, in the last three years—to create some additional 90 Peers. Under the proposed scheme a Prime Minister will not be able to do this, and I should have thought in this very important respect his powers of patronage will be considerably reduced.
Finally, the White Paper, in its anxiety to avoid this charge, made its calculations so fine that it has run into the opposite charge of leaving in the air control to an idiosyncratic bunch of Cross-Benchers, who, from some speeches yesterday, one might even have thought were generally considered to be un- 950 balanced. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, had the answer to this particular question when he said that Cross-Benchers in fact take a good deal of persuading not to vote with the Government of the day. That is to say, they always can be persuaded, if it is correct for them to be persuaded; but, basically speaking, they would always tend to vote with the Government of the day. However, that is not entirely the point. The point is that, despite all these precautions taken by the White Paper, still the cry of "patronage" is raised, and I can only suspect that the people who continue to insist on raising it are the victims of dogma and simply have not looked to see how this principle applies.
The Conservatives have two major objections, with the first of which I have a certain sympathy. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, yesterday gave what I thought was the best defence I have ever heard of the hereditary principle, and it takes some courage to do that these days. When I listened to him, I at last began to understand what might be the value to this House of the younger hereditary Peers. We were there, accumulating experience, unconsciously assimilating manners and tradition, not necessarily on the Floor of the House—which would account for the fact that the attendance figures are rather low—for, indeed, it could be anywhere in the building, or perhaps even outside it. After a decade or so, when one had matured, one was able to pass on to the newly-created vulgarians the secret of this priesthood. I thought it was a romantic picture, and who am I to deny it? Certainly the hereditary Peers give more continuity than the Life Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, did not disprove this when he said that Life Peers did not have this opportunity.
Nor do I see why the Government should decide, in the name of some ideological principle, that they do not wish to make any further use of a group of people on whose services they can call. Indeed, they can do so without any risk after they have introduced the two-tier system. This seems to me to be art act of self-sacrifice. However, I am prepared to accept this as the price of the compromise in this case.
With minor reservations—for example, I think there should be votes for all Peers 951 when they sit on Committees to which they are appointed, because the proposals will not otherwise make any sense at all —I entirely support the White Paper. It seems to me to be entirely sensitive to the value of the House, and it sets out to preserve all that is best, and all that it is possible to preserve to-day.
I believe that if the Bill goes through the prospects for the future will be exciting for anyone who is interested in the development and improvement of our own political institutions. This is interestingly covered in Appendix II, which seems to be far-sighted when it discusses the ways in which duplication of procedure on certain Bills could be eliminated, how there could be various joint select committees and so on. It seems to me that co-operation of that sort between this House and the House of Commons is very much needed. There is a certain amount of it now; indeed this House is already invaluable to the House of Commons. But this indispensability is resented, and if there was a reform it would do much to remove that resentment and would be a great gain.
If we are to have reform, let us have it quickly. In 1948 the Parties failed to agree on reform, because the Conservatives would not accept a proposed delaying power which, three years later, they would have been delighted to accept; and which, indeed, was half as long again as what they are now prepared to accept. That must not again be allowed to become a breaking point. If this reform is right, it must be right now, and we should get it out of the way before the next General Election. The quicker the public view of this Chamber is brought into line with reality, the better.
This Bill will have a hard time, and I wish the Government all possible luck. If it fails it will be because the White Paper will have been too good, too finely calculated and precise, too logical, too consistent, too deficient in anomaly and contradictions and obvious error, without any of those hallowed absurdities of our great organs of tradition; in short, insufficiently misunderstood. In that case, my Lords, this country will then have proved that what it needs is a House of Lords in its present form.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I shall be brief as the hour is late, and since we are only halfway through to-day's list. I should like to begin by adding my congratulations and thanks to the authors of this White Paper and to the Committee. It is quite obvious that their work has been extraordinarily well and thoroughly done. If we do not all agree with all of it, I do not think that is any reflection on them. Personally, I accept the view that the time has now arrived (if it had not arrived before) to eliminate the hereditary Peerage from voting in this House. I do not see that it can really be validly defended any longer. I know the argument is that it has worked quite well, and I believe that to be perfectly true. But if it has worked in the last 50 years, it has surely been at the price of the loss of almost any form of power for your Lordships' House. For this reason I am in general sympathy with the policies and proposals set out in the White Paper.
Whether a voting House of 230 Peers will be quite so easy to maintain, or will be as workable as some people seem to think, only time will tell, but I am quite certain that it is worth trying. In common with a great many other noble Lords, I have some reservations about this. In the first place, I do not think we can pretend that a voting House is any more democratic than the House as at present constituted. I am quite certain that the Committee considered the alternative, which would be an elected House, and came to the conclusion that a voting House would be more appropriate. With that I agree. However, in common with probably 80 per cent. of other noble Lords who have spoken so far in this debate, I am opposed to the complete elimination from this House (however gradual) of the hereditary Peers, and for the reasons which have already been adduced.
In the first place—and this may be a little unfashionable these days—I believe it will be a pity, and I believe the British public will think it a pity, and will regret the break—for no very good practical reason that I can see—with a very old Constitutional tradition. We are really a part of the history of this country which goes back for centuries. Secondly, I feel—and I know this has been said by almost every other Peer 953 who has spoken—that it will be sad to see the House being deprived of the services of many of its potentially eminent Members.
I know that no one (least of all your Lordships) wishes to claim a monopoly of either wisdom or virtue for the hereditary Peerage. But it cannot he denied that it has in the past contained Members who combined an expert knowledge of their own subject with long experience, as it does to-day. The House is a really representative cross-section of British life. I am sad to think—I am frightened to think—that in years to come it will be gradually deprived of doctors and artists, of industrialists, agriculturalists, members of religious minorities, even of some of its more eccentric Members whom I think we should all regret to see no longer in your Lordships' House, because I am sure we all know the great part they play in our deliberations and discussions.
Noble Lords have also made a great play—and I do agree with this—on the loss to the House of younger Members. We have been told that there are only nine Peers under the age of 40 who attend at all regularly, but surely nine are better than none. I feel that with the reformed House as proposed, it will really be extremely unlikely that very many young Peers will, in the event, find their way into it. I personally regret this position. I think there is a danger that we shall get a House of elderly voting Peers who are nominated because they are fairly near retiring age and, as it were, will not "hold up the seat" for someone else for too long. I hope that if and when this White Paper becomes an Act of Parliament those responsible for the nomination of voting Peers will take this point to heart.
I realise that these points will to some extent be countered, and that an attempt will be made to meet them in the appointment of voting Peers, particularly among the independent Cross-Benchers. But these will be comparatively few in number and in any case the type of hereditary Peer I am thinking of—the non-voting Peer—is unlikely to be attracted to the House by the obligations or responsibilities of voting membership. Therefore, I hope that the Government will take heed of these points, most of which have been made already, and will think again about whether there might 954 be some means of ensuring that at least part of the hereditary Peerage—non-voting, of course—could be retained in a reformed House.
Now may I say a very brief word about Scotland. Like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and other Scots who have spoken to-day, I was delighted to see that the White Paper recognises the special position of Scotland and Wales in this matter. I do not know myself what the constitutional position is regarding the Act of Union and the number of Scottish representative Peers who are entitled to sit here under that Act, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Perth that this is something which should be looked into before the Bill is drafted.
Another point is that whatever number of Scottish Peers are nominated for your Lordships' House, it is important to remember that Scottish legislation tends on the whole to be fairly non-controversial in a Party political sense and though we want a reasonable Party political balance among Peers, I am not certain that this is so important. What is important is that the Scottish Peers who sit in the House are selected from different parts of Scotland and also from its different professions, because they will have much to contribute and, if past experience is any guide in this House, quite a lot of work to do.
My Lords, I do not wish to say any more to-night. There have been many attempts to reform your Lordships' House and I feel that this is one which, with qualifications, is worthy of your support. As has been said already, I believe that it is a typical British, compromise which should be supported.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS SWANBOROUGH
My Lords, I am in favour of the White Paper, which I think is a splendid document. It is very readable and extremely well put together, but I must admit that I should be very sorry if we were to lose some of the intangible strength which this House represents. I sit as one who had the good fortune to be the first woman Peer to enter this august Chamber. There must be very few Members of this House who have sat here who will not acknowledge with real gratitude the lessons taught unthinkingly by individual Peers and the opportunities 955 for seeing examples which have no parallel anywhere else. Ten years have taught me much of tolerance and temperate assessment, of thoughtful weighing and balanced judgment. These things have been vouchsafed by watching your Lordships and following worthwhile examples, and I wish I could think that I had learned the lessons glimpsed.
I am a Cross-Bencher because for thirty years my work has demanded a non-political approach, and my allegiance has been to a non-political viewpoint. I am sure that when casting one's vote as an independent individual, it is necessary to be absolutely convinced, and if one is without the support of a Whip's advice it is important to hear the greater part of any debate in order to reach a really objective personal viewpoint.
Sitting on these Benches has disadvantages as well as advantages. Voting, in any case, has to be very seriously accepted and each and every real Cross-Bencher has the additional responsibility of having the privilege of an independent decision. There is the disadvantage of no Whip to guide, to stimulate and to upbraid, and in addition there is very often the fact that noble Lords come to sit on these Benches when their affiliations are political ones but, for Party reasons, they prefer to sit here. Such Peers, I feel, should not be classed as Cross-Benchers. True Cross-Benchers are independent individuals and must always act as such; they must never deflect from an absolutely independent appraisal of situations, conditions and proposals.
Ever since I came to this House I have been conscious of an atmosphere which is unmistakable in its sense of responsibility and its level of integrity. This is something which I am quite sure must never be lost. This is part of the tradition that every one of us must see is preserved. I believe there is a place in the House for Cross-Benchers as part of a whole. I know that Cross-Benchers must be careful and thoughtful in the use of their vote, and I hope most profoundly that the Cross Benches will always be safeguarded from invasion by those who are dissatisfied with their Party allegiance. I also hope that it may he possible to preserve the Cross Benches 956 for those who are truly independent in their outlook.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ LORD ARCHIBALD
My Lords, with reference to what the noble Baroness has just said, may I say that it is not only the Cross-Benchers who apply individual and personal judgment to the issues on which they vote. I believe that on both sides of the House there is as much freedom of choice on voting as there may be on the Cross Benches. I would rather resent the implication that it is only those who sit on the Cross Benches who exercise independent judgment on the votes they give in this House.
May I make an apology that I was unable to be in the House earlier this afternoon because of an engagement? I wrote a speech about two days ago, and over these two days I have been tearing it to pieces, crossing pieces out, and I should probably have decided to take my name off the speaking list had not the Lord Chancellor in his opening statement yesterday referred to the fact that be believed there was only one unicameralist in the House, and many of my friends identified me as being the one he had in mind. I then felt that I must stand up and be counted. But in fact, probably because I have been longer in the House than some, I need not on this occasion have stood up to be counted, because in our debate on the Peerage Bill in 1963 I declared myself as a unicameralist. So it is not a new situation.
At that time, in 1963, my old friend, the late Lord Morrison, proceeded to "tear a strip off" me. He profoundly disagreed with my position as a unicameralist, but he went on to say something which I think really demolished his own case and established mine. For example, he said, one of the defences of Parliamentary democracy against encroachment by this House is the fact that this House's composition is irrational. Therefore he was against the elected principle here. It would never do he said (I am only paraphrasing) for this place to be elected, because for that very reason it would be a more effective rival to the House of Commons. It would make this place a little too respectable, perhaps, at the expense of the other place. The fact that it is irrational makes it more difficult for this House to interfere with the will 957 of the people. The proposals of the White Paper would make this House, in Lord Morrison's words, "a little more respectable", and therefore more powerful. I am against that, and I would rather see the composition of this House unchanged and only its delaying power curtailed. In this respect, my Lords, I find myself, for almost the first time in my life, in agreement with the leading article in The Times by David Wood, which is headed Lords Reform is Poor Bargain for Labour". I think that is probably the most astute reflection that has been made on this particular White Paper.
I feel that what is needed at the moment is not so much reform of the House of Lords as reform of the House of Commons. If the House of Commons were reformed on a rational basis then my case as a unicameralist would be complete. But, of course, it is not for me, as a Member of this House—it would be an impertinence on my part—to tell the House of Commons how they should reform themselves. I can do that privately in conversation with Members of that House, many of whom are in agreement with me.
That brings me to my central point. I completely challenge the view, so often expressed in this House, that it is a great revisionist Chamber. Perhaps 95, 98 or 99 per cent. of the Amendments made to Bills are Government Amendments. In the main, if they are Opposition Amendments, forced by Division on the Government, they go to the other House who reverse them; and this House accepts that reversal. I should have thought that the other House, by a revision of its procedure, could have, perhaps between the Committee and Report stages, a sufficient delay to allow all these things that normally come to us to be dealt with in that House.
There are Government Amendments which require possibly the normal sort of consequential Amendments; there are Amendments on which the Minister says, "If the honourable Member will withdraw that Amendment. I will try to put it in better form"; there are Amendments on which the Minister says, "If the honourable Member will withdraw it I will look at it again and see how far I can meet him"; there are Amendments which arise from the fact that the Parliamentary draftsman needs to have another 958 look and to do a little more perfecting. All these Amendments which come to us could be dealt with in the House of Commons if there were a sufficient delay between the Committee stage and the Report stage.
There are only two elements in the White Paper with which I find myself in agreement. I repeat, I believe in single-Chamber government, and therefore what I say has to be qualified by that. But I should have thought that as abolition of your Lordships' House is not for the moment practical politics (I accept that and accept that your Lordships' House will continue for many years to come, long after I cease to be a Member), there are only two things that need to be done. If the House is not to be abolished I would say, "Leave its composition exactly as it is now". I do not mind the operation of the hereditary principle, because it keeps your Lordships' House so irrational that nobody is going to give it very great importance. I would do only two of the things set out in the White Paper. Paragraph 73(k) states that the House should impose a delay of only six months. Excellent. Then there is paragraph 11 of Appendix II, which deals with subordinate legislation. If the delaying power of this House is reduced to six months, and subordinate legislation is dealt with as indicated in the White Paper, I see no need for the reform of this House until the day arrives when there is sufficient volume of opinion on my side in favour of its abolition.
§ 8.20 p.m.
My Lords, I have a very few words that I want to say towards the end of this mammoth Debate. People of other countries have the greatest admiration for the quality of debates in your Lordships' House and respect for the time spent by your Lordships on lengthy and sometimes very boring Committees. I have shown a great many of these people around the house, and they have said so time and time again.
Are we hereditary Peers throughout the country at large just a lot of boring, bumbling windbags, not worthy to have the right to vote? I should feel less than "incurably a poodle" if I attended your Lordships' House without this right. Attending this House as a second-rate 959 Peer would be as abhorrent to me as to be classed as a second-rate citizen. A great many noble Lords would not be happy to attend under these conditions, and I think this country would lose a great deal in the long run if this change in the composition of this House were to take place.
I am in complete agreement about the need for reform, but not all the reforms set out in this "wishy-washy" White Paper. But I see no chance in the foreseeable future of getting a better deal. Being an old dodderer of 63 (less than 10 years from euthanasia) getting something worse would not bother me unduly; therefore, I shall vote against the White Paper.
But I am thinking of the younger of your Lordships, much younger, who may suffer if this White Paper is thrown out. And a number of young Peers are essential if this House is to keen and restore its value to this country as an ancient but modernised Estate of the Realm.
I should like to mention and quote a few words about the right reverend Prelates in this House—none of them is here to-day. I would like to mention James VI of Scotland and James I of England, of blessed memory, who said, "No Bishops, no Kings" and others who said, "No ceremony, no Bishops". In the early part of the 17th year of Charles I, 1641, the Commons passed a Bill,to restrain the Bishops, and others in Holy Orders, from intermeddling in secular affairs,or, in other words, to prevent them from voting in Parliament. The Lords rejected the Bill by a large majority. Later, another Bill fell to the ground. The account given of its failure by Lord Clarendon (as Mr. Hyde, constant chairman of Committees on the Bill, which was debated for nearly 20 days) is curious. He said:They only who prosecuted the Bill with impatience remaining in the House, and the others who abhorred it growing weary of so tiresome an attendance, left the House at dinner time …So that a forbear of mine, Lucius Cary, was wont to say that "they who hated the Bishops hated them worse than the Devil, and they that loved them did not love them so well as their dinner." An Act was finally passed in 1642, and the Bishops remained excluded from Parlia- 960 ment, not only during the period of the Commonwealth but even for some time after the Restoration.
I should like to end with a quotation I have from the New York Times, sent to me by an American friend. The quotation says:The White Paper sounds like the death of velvet-and-ermine robes and all that! It almost makes reality of the threat made by the Fairy Queen to the Peers in W. S. Gilbert's spoof of the House of Lords lolanthe:'Titles shall enoble thenAll the common council men'to which the Peers replied 'Spare us!'"
§ 8.26 p.m.
LORD BELHAVEN AND STENTON
My Lords, I am happy to be able to follow my noble friend Lord Falkland. I hope that he does not carry out his implied threat of deserting this House after the proposed reform and that your Lordships will have the benefit of his counsel in future. We have heard many speeches to-day, some of them very good. I think, possibly because I agreed with every word in it, we had one extremely good speech which was made by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald. My first reaction on reading this White Paper was that it ought to be burned by the common hangman. However, apart from the fact that that grisly and repulsive gentleman no longer exists, I have had some second thoughts on this point since coming to your Lordships' House. One of the advantages of coming to your Lordships' House is that it can develop a tolerant outlook. Though one may have a quiet half-hour with The Times, when one tears it to pieces one sees that the people with whom one may disagree profoundly are in fact human. That is one of the good things about your Lordships' House.
I respect absolutely the integrity of those who worked together to draw up this unfortunate document, and I believe that they have tried hard to reconcile the irreconcilable. That the results are lamentable is no fault of theirs. Rather it is inherent in the nature of our problem, and it has indeed been frequently predicted that any attempt to tinker with the membership of this House would have just this sort of result. I think that we might very well have left well alone, and I say this now because during most of my speech I shall be dealing with what I consider to be the only genuine way in 961 which this House and the British Constitution should be reformed once it is admitted that reform is inevitable. The question of inevitability is really in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. If they are, as they seem to be, determined to go ahead, then that determination makes reform inevitable, and, however regretfully, we must accept it. It is none the less our duty as Members of this House to comment on and if necessary condemn the proposals they put forward.
My Lords, it is inherent in the nature of true reform that it should make things better and not worse. We should therefore judge these proposals in the White Paper not as they affect our own interests, whether we are to be first or second-class Peers, or even as they affect this House, with all it means to us, but as they will affect this country and whether they will do positive good or harm to the British people; and, indeed, whether those people will think them acceptable. We all share the belief that the people as a whole have a fundamental right to decide how and by whom they will be governed. I think it could also be agreed that our present Constitution reflects this belief somewhat imperfectly, and not only or principally because of the hereditary nature of the membership of your Lordships' House. The electoral system by which Members of another place hold their seats can, and usually does, produce the phenomenon of a Party having a majority with less than 50 per cent. of the total votes cast. Once assured of this majority the Government can do more or less as they please, subject only to the limited and almost unused delaying power of your Lordships' House. They can act as if they represented the majority of the British people, which in fact they usually do not, and they can, and do, use this so-called mandate from the people as a stick with which to beat your Lordships' House and any other organisation which presumes to oppose them.
Noble Lords on the Liberal Benches will find it hard to disagree with me when point out the fatal disadvantage under which their Party has laboured so long and, I might say—though I am no Liberal —so heroically. One would have thought that in a proposed reform of an Upper House or of our Constitution some account might he taken of the wishes of those millions of people whose vote is 962 virtually wasted, not to speak of those who might have voted Liberal or Scottish National or "what-have-you" had they thought that it would do any good. It is, of course, very kind of the Government to say that we hereditary Peers may stay on as non-voting Peers and teat no-one is going to be seriously inconvenienced. I am sure they mean well, and I thank them. But that, after all, is not the point. The point is, or should be, to make our Constitution better, whether or not people, including political leaders, are inconvenienced. If this House is to be reformed in the interests of democratic theory then I hold that it should be truly democratic. It should be elected on a basis that gives a voice to those who are not properly represented in the other place.
My Lords, I have stated what I believe to be the only solution of this dilemma which is fair to the British people. In the past, those who succeeded to seats in your Lordships' House sat here because in those days they were the natural leaders of the British people, in that under the Crown they represented the pinnacle of a stable and mainly rural social order. They were, or ideally they should have been, trustees for the British peoples whose natural leaders they had become by heredity or by signal and duly re-rewarded service to the State. They held power, authority and position, and as a body they constituted a natural and accepted check on the occasional impetuosity of their juniors who sat in the other place. They were, in effect, an estate of the realm.
In the past, to act without the consent of the nobility was useless, because the nobility would turn one out. We who now sit where the ancient nobility once sat can no longer claim the entrenched authority and position which were theirs by natural right. None the less, I consider that such power and position as we still have is held in trust for the British people. I hold that the power which we hold on behalf of the British people should be surrendered to them and to no one else. It should not be given to the patronage of the Crown as exercised by the Prime Minister, and it should not be given to the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet to wrangle over.
I understand that the Commons will I not accept an elected Upper House, and 963 that those who want one are voices crying in the wilderness. Voices that cry in the wilderness have a habit of being heard. The Leaders of the Parties are in general agreed on this White Paper, so there is little chance of a reform on the basis of a democratically elected Upper House coming out of the present discussions. Instead, we are to get an assembly which is agreeable to those in power and to those who may in the course of a few years assume power. Things are to be arranged so that it can be relied upon to give general support to the Government of the day. The Cross-Benchers will hold the balance, though we are not told what will happen should the majority of them become a nuisance and decide to give general support to the Opposition. No doubt things will be arranged to counteract any such demonstrations of independence.
As I see it, the new House is unlikely to present much inconvenience to the Government of the day. It is to be complementary to the Commons, and its work is likely to be integrated with that of the other place, whatever that may mean. At all events, it will possess no entrenched powers and, in spite of all that has been said to-day, its veto will be quite as ineffective as that of the present House. Its membership will be no more democratic than that of the present House and, since it will be selected by patronage rather than by the more chancy system of heredity, it is likely to be a good deal more malleable. Should all these precautions which are being taken to ensure a docile and well-behaved assembly fail to achieve their objective, the Government can still abolish it or browbeat it into submission.
My Lords, what a wretched apology for a reform this is! Our ancestors who put through so many great reforms in the past were the authors of the Reform Bills, of the abolition of the slave trade, of Catholic emancipation. What would they think of this monstrous parody of a reform that we are being asked to discuss to-day? I do not hold with the doctrine that it is the business of Parliament to make things easy for the Government. This is a medieval formula which was decisively rejected in this country more than 300 years ago. It 964 is a pernicious weed of a doctrine which should be rooted up before it spreads and smothers what is left of the liberties of the British people.
I think that there is a fair comparison between the situation of your Lordships' House over the last few years and that of the Roman Senate in the time of the Caesars. Both assemblies were subjected to bullying and thinly-veiled threats. The main difference that I can see is that, while the Senators were threatened with the loss of their heads, your Lordships have been threatened with the loss of your seats. Not unnaturally, your Lordships have been a little bolder, but not much.
We had the Rhodesian vote. It was something of a Gilbertian charade which would only have provoked a Government determined to be provoked. The Caesars did not take kindly to being needled; nor, apparently, do Her Majesty's Government. The talks on the future of this House were abruptly terminated and we were told that we had gone too far. A great deal of hot air was generated, but Her Majesty's Government seem to have regained control over their temper sufficiently to produce a White Paper which substantially reflects the discussion. Have we any guarantee that Her Majesty's Government will keep their temper if they are similarly provoked by the reformed House? I think not.
My Lords, I, and I dare say many of your Lordships, have been approached by members of the public and asked questions such as, "I do not like the Transport Bill"—or this or that Bill— "Why don't you vote against it in the House of Lords?" Under our present system, one has to answer, rather ashamedly, that one can do little or nothing. This is the point I wish to make in regard to this proposed reform. Our Constitution is weak because there is no effective limit to the powers of another place, and this is so because your Lordships' House lacks authority and power.
In order to remedy this situation, I put it to your Lordships that there is only one solution, and it is emphatically not the solution which has been proposed in the White Paper. The Upper House should be given the only authority which is respected in a democratic society. It must be elected by the people, who will then participate more effectively in 965 Government knowing that they can choose their representatives in both Houses of Parliament. If this upsets some Members of another place, I would say this: they do not like your Lordships' House because it is not an elected Chamber, so they ought to accept the logical alternative. To make this House elective would be the only true way to reform it, and I appeal to your Lordships not to support this wretched half-baked reform which is proposed in the White Paper.
This White Paper is not a true reform in line with liberal and democratic thought. No, my Lords, it is a document which, while purporting to democratise the Constitution, in effect does the exact opposite. It does not give more power to the people; it gives more power to the Government to direct what the people shall do. I will not repeat the propositions on which the White Paper is based. I will spare your Lordships that. But I put it to your Lordships that these pro-positions, if implemented, will reduce your Lordships' House to a mere cypher; and, further, that it is precisely that type of assembly which tyrants have aimed to create since the dawn of history.
On the basis of these propositions, I could go one further and say that it would promote the more efficient working of Parliament as a whole to do without a Second Chamber altogether. Then, since I take it that efficiency is the aim, why have a Parliament at all? The Government could then get its edicts on the Statute Book with the help of expert civil servants, and without the tiresome necessity of having them debated and subjected to frustration and delay. All these things seem to me logically to follow from these propositions. I hope that they will not commend themselves to your Lordships.
§ 8.37 p.m.
My Lords, before I say the few things that I propose to say on the White Paper, as I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, in many of the things he said, I should like to thank him for his kind remarks about the "heroic" quality shown on the Liberal Benches. I regret that I do not feel so heroic as I should like to on the occasion.
966 The other thing that I should like to do is to say how sorry I was not to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, which I understand was excellent, and how delighted I was not to have missed the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, which I thought (I hope in his absence it is not wrong to say this) was quite outstanding. He mentioned the traditional prerogative of maidens to be on their guard. I understand that technically he was not a maiden; but that this fact was discreetly overlooked by the noble Lord the Leader of the House, who skirted it with all the delicacy of a gentleman explorer skirting a virgin forest. I hope we shall hear the noble Earl often in this House.
To come on, I hope briefly, to the subject of the debate, which is mainly the position of the hereditary Peerage, the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, when mentioning the "St. Aldwyn Whip" in his extremely stirring "All Saints" oration, referred to the fact that he was here by an accident of death. It will save some of your Lordships' time if I go quite briefly into a little of my family history, only because it pinpoints the main point I want to make. If my grandfather (and I shall not go back further than that), had not suffered a mild stroke at the age of 19 and been assured that he could not live for another year, and if consequently he had not spent the remainder of the 86 years of his life exclusively either watching the Eton and Harrow match when it was on, or remembering it when it was not, it is possible, only possible, that as well as having inherited a seat in your Lordships' House, however temporarily, I might have also inherited the Lordship of the Manor of Shrivenham, which would have given me a rather delightful privilege which I only heard about recently. The privilege is that if the Monarch, or any representative of the Monarch, should pass or cross over that land, the right, and indeed the duty, of the Lord of the Manor is to present him with two white capons, with—and this is the point I want to make—what I think is a useful and saving formula to this effect: "Behold my Lord, two white capons which it is my privilege to present to you at another time, but not now." The words "but not now" are the words 967 I want to stress, because before saying anything about the merits or demerits of the White Paper, I have to confess that I agree with my noble friend Lord Foot, who made this point the other day—and I think it is the only point on which I disagree with my noble Deputy Leader, Lord Henley—in feeling that whatever the merits of this White Paper the timing is one for which I can see no defence from the point of view of Parliament or the country, although it may have been very convenient possibly to certain members of the Executive.
The hereditary principle has been going for a long time, and if we are to abolish the hereditary principle we shall have to go a lot further than abolishing hereditary titles. I will certainly "not now", in the words of my formula, go into the question of which qualities in a meritocracy are or are not inherited. As applied to the debates in your Lordships' House. which is really what we are discussing, some wonder has been expressed that they have ever worked. I share that wonder, because I think your Lordships' House has been an attempt in the past—and I should say a not unsuccessful attempt—to do something which I think is probably impossible; that is, to combine the qualities which, in the French Revolution, were described as liberty, equality and fraternity. Your Lordships' House has been criticised on all of these points. Fraternity has, of course, received a bad knock, and I shall not go into the criticism of this House on the ground that everybody is the cousin of somebody else. But I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, assure us that every attempt would be made to preserve the liberty which is one of the charms of debate in this House. That assurance is the most comforting thing I have heard in the course of this debate.
Equality has, of course, been abandoned, perhaps necessarily, but I think it may be prematurely, by the introduction for the first time of a two-tier Peerage. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, is the only Peer who so far has mentioned that the word "Peer" means "equal", and that an unequal Peerage is something of a contradiction in terms, like a static transport system—but we may be accustomed even 968 to that. In this House up to now every Peer, even the humblest Duke, who may, for all I know, be a backwoodsman has had as much right not only to be heard but to vote as the most capable and efficient Life Peer. The proposal now is—and I quite accept it as being a necessary one if we are going to alter the position —to introduce what I shall call "walking noblemen" and "talking noblemen".
In Dickens's day there used to be on the stage a form of actor called a "walking gentleman". I never quite knew whether he was inferior or superior to the others, but there seems to be some doubt in your Lordships' House as to whether those noble Lords who are to be allowed to vote are in a better position or a worse position of class than those who are only allowed to talk. We have run the gamut of opinion from "A" to "B" on that. "A" was expressed by my noble friend Lady Asquith, who said she would rather be anything than a "fourpenny stamp", and "B", I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who considered it was humiliating for any of us to vote in this House on the grounds that our vote would be overridden in another place. I stand halfway between the two. There are some matters on which I should prefer, if I were allowed, to vote and not talk; others on which I should prefer to talk and not vote. I have no doubt what your Lordships would prefer me to do, and for that reason I shall try to conclude what I have to say in one minute, or a minute and a half.
The humiliation which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned is, I think, one to which hereditary Peers are fairly accustomed, having long been classified in law books, as has been pointed out, with infants, lunatics, imbeciles, undischarged bankrupts and various other things. There may be difficulties in the actual voting arrangements in this House. What happens to the hereditary Peers when a Question is put to the vote? Will they be ejected from the House by a sort of hereditary-Peer ejector? Will they be able to find sanctuary on the Bishops' Benches? Will they be allowed to sit on the Steps; and, if so, will the Steps be provided with a gallery? Or will they be, as the noble Lord said, expected to disappear permanently?
969 The last danger that I see—and it is a serious one—is what I am already sucsumbing to the temptation to do. There are occasions when one wants to express an opinion, and one can do it very shortly by voting, without taking up your Lordships' time. There might be a temptation for noble Lords such as myself, as a Back Bench Liberal Peer, who are not allowed to vote, and indeed may be quite unqualified in that respect, to speak on more occasions than they otherwise would, simply in order to state their point of view. I can think of two possible ways of dealing with that. One, I think, would be some form of guillotine —I hope not actually physically cutting our vocal chords or anything of that kind. Or it could be by the introduction of some machinery for stopping them after a certain time—that would be a temptation for a Government which many of your Lordships would probably welcome. I think it would be a mistake. I began with a formula, and the only individual contribution I can make, as a non-holder of the Manor of Shrivenham, is that one should adapt that formula much as I adapt it to show my feelings towards the White Paper by saying that it is my duty and privilege as a hereditary Viscount to give two cheers—or perhaps, if I sit only as a Baron, only one cheer—for this White Paper. But "not now". I think that on those occasions a formula could be found for Peers to speak to this effect: "My Lords, I rise to express my agreement"—or disagreement— "with this Motion"—or this Amendment— "which I shall express by vote, or should have expressed by vote, but 'not now'" That is all I have to say, my Lords, and I hope that I have not trespassed too much upon your Lordships' time.
§ 8.50 p.m.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, from a Constitutional point of view, the legislation foreshadowed by this White Paper will be easily the most important ever to have been brought before your Lordships' House since the Reform Bill of 1832. It is a matter of the deepest regret to me that it should have been brought forward by the present Government, and not by one of the Conservative Governments over the last 25 years. The reform of your Lord 970 ships' House is a matter in which I have for a long time been deeply interested. As long ago as 1932, when I was a quite young Member of another place, I was invited by the father of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to be one of two young Tory Members of Parliament to join his Committee of some 10 or 12 of the most respected Members of your Lordships' House in an endeavour to work out a good and agreed system of reform. We had some 20 meetings, and we came to pretty unanimous conclusions as regards the composition of the House. Unfortunately, it eventually broke down on powers.
There is very little in the present White Paper of which I can approve. I agree with the principle of the limitation of voting Members in your Lordships' House, and I am prepared to have a two-tier system, but—and I cannot in the time at my disposal deal with all the points with which I should like to deal—one of the most important points is the question of the payment of the future voting Peers. Although the Government Front Benches have specifically denied that any particular salary has been indicated, it is pretty generally agreed that the figure of £2,000 is rather more than a figure just floating in the air. It has also been said that the Prime Minister's patronage will be reduced rather than increased by this. But I submit that though it may be reduced in volume, it is going to be very much increased in quality; and I fear that the introduction of the £2,000 a year provision may well mean the beginning of something akin to the corruption in American politics.
What must the voting Peer do to earn his money? He has to attend one-third of the Sittings of your Lordships' House. But what does this in fact mean? He has merely to come in, catch the Clerk's eye, and go out again. If he does that for one-third of the Session, he has earned his money. There is no provision whereby he really has to earn it. Although there is a provision that in certain circumstances he can be removed from being a voting Peer, how is anybody going to prove this when his name duly appears day after day, and he need be in your Lordships' House for only five minutes? That is a very weak aspect of the proposal.
971 Then there is a matter which has already been alluded to by many speakers—the way in which the age of your Lordships' House, already rather on the high side, is going to be still further increased. In spite of all that has been said on both sides of the House, I cannot see how it is going to be possible for young men in normal circumstances ever to become Members. It is true that those who are already Members of the House will continue all their lives. I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention three names. During the last few years the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has earned for himself a high and well-deserved reputation in your Lordships' House.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
But, my Lords, he has been able to do so only because he was able to enter the House as a young man and gradually speak and make his mark. To-day we heard the excellent maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, still not 30 years of age; and yesterday we had the most excellent maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, whose speech impressed me a great deal. In fact, I looked at a work of reference in order to learn more about him. What I saw amazed me to such an extent that I checked in a second work of reference to see if the first could possibly be right. The noble Lord, Lord Feversham, is still only 23 years of age; although what I may be pardoned for calling his hirsute appendages made him appear considerably older. Those three young men will be in your Lordships' House for all their lives, but in years to come other young men who may well have equal ability will not come to this House.
I can see no reason whatsoever, nor has any valid reason been produced by the Government, why young men when they succeed to Peerages should not continue to be able to sit and speak in your Lordships' House, and then gradually to become voting Peers if and when they show their merit. The only argument put up against it was that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who said that we might have 750 coming in. When have we ever had 750 in the past? Is there any reason to suppose that we shall 972 ever have that number in the future? I suggest that the fairest way of dealing with this matter would be to say that any person of any age, on succeeding to a Peerage, could claim to have a writ of summons so that he could attend and gradually familiarise himself with the work of your Lordships' House. There would be no Constitutional or practical objection to that. The only reason against this course, one may assume, is the spite and malice felt by the Socialist Party towards the hereditary Peerage.
Let us take the position of the senior Members of your Lordships' House under the two-tier voting system. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has rather stolen my thunder in mentioning the case of Sir Winston Churchill, but let us see what the position will be. Someone is going to be here for a number of years as a voting Peer. At the age of 72 he will abruptly be told, "Old man, you are now senile. You are no longer fit to be a voting Peer. Get down among the 'fourpenny Peers'". At the same time another elderly gentleman, perhaps a man of 75 years of age, will be told, "Oh, but you are a Minister of the Crown. Perhaps you are a Cabinet Minister in charge of a Department, to which is entrusted the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. You are quite all right. You at 75 are not to he compared with that enfeebled old dodderer of 72". It would require the pen of the late W. S. Gilbert, or the happily still alive Sir Alan Herbert, to do justice to that situation.
It is lamentable that the Government did not provide, at least for a provisional and experimental period, for a certain number of hereditary Peers, partly to be nominated by the heads of Parties and partly to be elected from among your Lordships' own ranks to be Members of the House. Admittedly, the proposals in the White Paper are going to be very much of an experiment. Surely there can be no reason why the experiment I have just suggested should not be made; and then, at the end of a limited period—perhaps five years' time—if it did not work (although I am quite certain it would) it could be reversed. These are things which I feel are absolutely wrong, and which I regret very much our own Front Bench should be prepared to swallow.
973 I should like to join the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in their criticism that the talk of what is to he done for Scottish representation here is all much too vague. Actually, so far as I can see, the exclusion of Peers of Scotland as such is another direct breach of the Act of Union, and it is one that will be felt and remembered in Scotland. It will certainly add to the strength of the Scottish Nationalists. During all my 34 years of experience in your Lordships' House the Peers of Scotland have always played at least their full part in the deliberations of your Lordships' House. To-day, for example, I am the eighth Peer of Scotland to address your Lordships—and by "Peer of Scotland" I mean those Peers who hold a Peerage of Scotland dating back to not later than 1707. There are also, of course, about half-a-dozen Scotsmen who hold Peerages who have spoken—and there were a great many such Peers yesterday, as well. It is not right, and it is unfair and derogatory to Scotland, that no proper constitutional provision should he made for continuing the representation of the Peers of Scotland.
My Lords, time is getting on and I do not want to inflict myself for an undue length upon your Lordships. We have now, unfortunately, an agreement between the Front Benches that this Paper is, if not from the point of view of my own Front Bench something which is wholly admirable, something which they can recommend. I am afraid I cannot agree with my own Front Bench in that regard. In fact, I regard their attitude towards it as being distinctly un-Tory. In this one regard they are by no means "True Blue". Their shade, if one looked it up in a horticultural chart, would be somewhere between buddlia mauve and phlox puce—and they are not shades which I like from a Parliamentary point of view.
To-morrow, I know, we shall have an eloquent and specious speech from the Leader of our Party urging us to support this White Paper. On this occasion, my Lords—and I hope on this occasion only —it is my painful duty to ask your Lordships to regard our noble Leader, not as a shining beacon beckoning us on towards a constitutional land of milk and honey, but rather as a will-o-the-wisp— 974An ignis fatuus that bewitches,And leads Peers into pools and ditches".And into pools and ditches will disappear a great deal of the prestige, of the traditions and of the authority of your Lordships' House which, once gone, can never be retrieved. For that reason, I hope that a very large number of your Lordships will to-morrow night support the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in the Lobby; and will register a most emphatic vote against this White Paper, telling the Government and our own Party to take it away and to bring back something more practical, less objectionable and less derogatory to your Lordships' House.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ LORD SINCLAIR OF CLEEVE
My Lords, may I begin by just a word of personal background against which some of the remarks I am about to make will have to be heard? I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for rearly twelve years, and in none of those years have I anything like attained the standard of 33⅓ per cent. attendance. In recent years I may have reached the second category of between 5 and 33⅓ per cent., but as I am situated, with all the will in the world to do what I can at all times to assist in the work of this House, I see no prospect of being able to qualify for the 33⅓ per cent. category.
Much of what I say relates very closely to the line taken by my noble friend Lord Mansfield. I cannot pretend to speak with the same experience or authority as he, but my first point is in relation to hereditary Peers. I find it hard to accept the principle that legislation which nullifies a right conferred by the Crown by Letters Patent under Seal can be passed as lightly as is now proposed. Yet there can be no justification as I see it, either in theory or in practice, for a system which ensures that overhanging a vote on any issue of importance there is an overwhelming built-in Party majority consisting largely of Peers who take no part in the proceedings of the House. Therefore, my Lords, I support the need for reform in this respect.
But as I see it the proposals in the White Paper go too far. There are today and there will be in the future some Peers by succession who have special knowledge and experience which could 975 be of great value to this House. We can all think of some who rarely attend your Lordships' House but who, when they do, speak with an authority derived from personal knowledge and experience of the subject under debate; and there will be others such in future. But over and above that, as has been suggested by several noble Lords, that source, the Peers by succession, could well contribute to the fount of youth from which a House, otherwise dependent for its recruitment mainly on Life Peers, could be refreshed and invigorated—and in that context, my Lords, may I say how well the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, gave point to that remark.
So it is that I should like to see the right of attendance and participation, the right, in fact, to receive the Writ of Summons, extended to all those Peers by succession (whether they succeed before reform or after it) who accept the obligations of full working membership from Parliament to Parliament. I will deal with voting membership later. With that condition I believe there it little risk of future sittings of your Lordships' House being swamped by future Peers by succession. In this connection, may I say that I recognise that in the application of the attendance qualification there is a real problem in relation to Scottish Peers, as was explained by the noble Earls, Lord Perth and Lord Dundee, earlier this afternoon.
This leads me to my second point, the point of voting membership. I share the dislike expressed in many quarters of the idea of having two classes of Peers; and there seems to me to be great force in the argument that if a Peer is entitled to attend and take part in a debate, whether a debate of the whole House or of the House in Committee, he should be entitled to vote in that debate. Nevertheless, I would accept an attendance qualification as being a reasonable condition in all the circumstances, and not least because of the argument that I have adduced in connection with my first point. The proposal, however, that the Government of the day should have a built-in majority of 10 per cent., or any other percentage, over the aggregate vote of the Opposition Parties would not, in practice, be necessary if voting right is based on attendance 976 qualification. With the proposed restriction in the delaying powers of the House, could we not leave this question for the time being? I was much impressed with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said on this subject yesterday. The exercise of the functions described in paragraph 8 of the White Paper would not be adversely affected in practice if the Government of the day were, for a time, less than 10 per cent. in strength above the strength of the Opposition Parties.
It seems to me that the proposal for the built-in voting majority of the Government of the day has two serious disadvantages. First, the loss of independence to which the noble Marquess. Lord Salisbury, and others referred and on which I need not elaborate, save to make the point that a small infusion—and it could not, in practice, be more than small—of future Peers by succession would help preserve the independent character of this House. The second disadvantage relates to numbers. I am afraid that this may be somewhat complicated. I would not presume to argue with the mathematical models referred to in paragraph 47 or the accuracy of the computer's answers to the data fed into it. Incidentally, in that connection there is no indication that I can find in the White Paper that that data includes an allowance for the creation of new Peers for what might be termed "normal" reasons as distinct from the creations to replace deaths, resignations and retirement.
However, leaving that aside, I offer the following calculation for consideration. I hope your Lordships will accept my assurance that although I speak from these Benches I am not speaking in any way from a Party standpoint. All noble Lords, whatever their Party, are, I am sure, concerned to make this reform work efficiently. We are told that the Government consider that, in the first instance, a reasonable number for an efficient House would be between 200 and 250, excluding Law Lords and Bishops, but they foresee the possibility of that having to be extended as the work of the House expands. Nevertheless, it would not be unreasonable to take the position at this first change as it is stated in paragraph 48; that is, immediately after reform. That position, 977 in numbers, there stated is: the Government, 105; the main Opposition Party, 80; other Opposition Parties, 15; and Cross Benchers, 30. This makes a total of 230. After the first change—and this could be in a very short period—if in the meantime deaths, resignations or retirements had not exceeded the normal creation of new Peers, the position, as I understand it from what was said in the White Paper, would have to be: the new Government, total 132; the main Opposition Party, at its previous figure, 105; other Opposition Parties, 15; Cross Benchers, 30. This gives a total of 282. That gives the new Government a 10 per cent. majority; that is, 132 over 120, which is the total of the main Opposition and the other Opposition Parties. Therefore, 52 new Peers would have had to be created for that first change.
After five years we may expect deaths, resignations and retirements to have exceeded new "normal" creations, and the total number of Peers required would be less than the theoretical maximum, which I calculate, on the same basis as the previous calculation, would be 339. It would be unlikely on any count after five years, if there were two changes in the five years, that the total number would not exceed 300. This is something that I think is well worth further consideration. To my mind, it would certainly be a bad thing if retirement by age had to be resorted to in order to keep the House in manageable size and provide the Government of the day with a working majority.
My third point relates to the age limit. I myself am over 72, but I have already indicated that I could not hope to satisfy the attendance qualifications, which I do not think unreasonable. Therefore, I hope that I may be acquitted of a self-interest in this matter. But to preclude, as is proposed, any Peer, however constant in his attendance and however wise and experienced, from voting either in the House or in Committee merely because he has attained some specified age, particularly what to many of us is so young an age as 72, really is a nonsense. There are scores of examples of Peers whose judgment has not deteriorated at that or at a much later age. The fact that such Peers may be able, with their knowledge and experience, to influence 978 in debate the thinking of others is undisputed. But to disqualify such Peers from voting simply because they have passed some arbitrary age limit is a great mistake.
I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said on this subject yesterday. He instanced the late Earl Attlee and also drew a remarkably accurate picture of the sort of language one might have expected from the late Sir Winston Churchill had such a proposal in other circumstances been put to him. I had a word with the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, and I have his permission to take an example nearer home. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, who normally sits on the Bench from which I am speaking, is a splendid case in point. His knowledge and experience of many countries in the Commonwealth is unrivalled in your Lordships' House. Yet, under the White Paper proposals, he would be precluded from voting, for example, on some question of policy in regard to Nigeria. Could anything be more absurd? I think that a voting qualification based on an arbitrary age limit, wherever fixed, is wrong.
As I see it, the three points I have endeavoured to make are points of substance. I could not therefore bring myself to vote for a Motion giving general approval to the proposals in the White Paper. From some of the things I have said, it will be clear that I am not against reform; but as the Motion is framed I must vote against it.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CALDECOTE
My Lords. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, as a second-generation Peer, for some 21 years. Though I have not been able to attend the House as often as I should like, and certainly not regularly during those years, nor have I borne the burden of the day in legislation and the like, as marry of your Lordships have, I have greatly appreciated being a Member of this House and have increasingly admired its ability to adjust itself to the changing needs of the country. I believe that no body is less concerned with its own rights and privileges; no body is more concerned with its duty and its service to the community, and no collection of people are more sincere and 979 less pompous in the execution of what they conceive to be their duty.
I think that tradition and the hereditary principle have much to do with these excellent attributes of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, I fully accept that it is not practicable in this present age, nor, probably, is it efficient in enabling this House to do its job, to retain the hereditary principle as it affects legislation. Therefore I welcome, in general, the proposals put forward in the White Paper as a solution to this issue. No doubt they are not ideal, but then democracy itself is not ideal: it is the best way that we have found up to now of governing ourselves.
These proposals, as I understand them, will enable voting Peers to deal more efficiently with the issues which affect legislation. They will still enable other Peers—those who cannot come regularly; those who are fully employed elsewhere in industry, business, commerce and the professions—to continue to come along, as in the past, and contribute their advice and help on subjects on which they have special skill and experience. But I greatly regret (I know that many others have made this point, and I will put it briefly) that aspect of the White Paper proposals which will involve abolition of the hereditary principle after this generation; it will abolish the hereditary principle for the non-voting Peers, though it will continue for the time being.
I strongly support the very fine speech of my noble friend Lord Denham (which unfortunately I did not hear, but which I have read with great interest), and his proposal that hereditary Peers should continue to receive the Writ whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair, said, they succeed before or after the reform proposals have been approved. They should continue to have the right to attend and speak as non-voting Peers; and no doubt in time some of them will qualify to be appointed voting Peers, in whatever way seems best in the future.
I will not repeat the arguments put by my noble friend Lord Denham, but I should like to add one. The vast majority of hereditary Peers come and speak in your Lordships' House because they believe they have a duty to make a contribution from their own special knowledge and experience; and in doing so 980 they add greatly to the debates here. I believe that in many cases the fact that his father has done this adds a bias in the direction of encouraging the son to come here and add his contribution to the debates, as he sees fit. Therefore I am strongly in favour of retaining this hereditary principle for non-voting Peers.
I enjoyed tremendously the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald —a powerful and courageous speech of the type to which we are well accustomed; and I know that the whole House did, too. But I disagree with him entirely that these proposals mean the abolition of the House of Lords. If the change that I propose is made, it will allow hereditary Peers to continue to come here as non-voting Peers; this House will continue as an effective Second Chamber, and its very fine traditions will live on, to the great benefit of the nation.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for allowing me to speak at this stage. I was unaware that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, was not going to speak, and therefore missed my turn. I have listened with great interest to noble Lords speaking from all parts of the House, and being an hereditary Peer I should like to say that I am in agreement with most of the proposals in the White Paper. There has been, and still is, a growing conviction outside political circles that the Parliamentary system is breaking down under present conditions, and that we exist in a bureaucratic rather than a democratic State. It is, of course, an easy thing to smirk at Ministers for actions so inept as to appear ill-intentioned, but in present circumstances the miracle is not that they think badly, but that they think at all.
A House of Lords that represented only half its electorate at any one time, whose leaders were chosen from outside and whose Members were virtually forbidden to vote independently, might well stand in need of a radical reform. The changeover or evolution of the House of Lords into a true co-ordinating centre for the political body, which at present is controlled first by the Right and then by the Left, is another matter; and, prejudice apart, would seem to me to be a 981 feasible project. The aristocratic hereditary right to sit in the House of Lords (and I might say, in passing, that I have been doing so for the last 18 months), which seems to stick so much in the throats of some less fortunate and less civilised people, is not a bad thing since, like hereditary monarchy, it avoids automatically the jockeying and tampering inherent in any other system.
It is forgotten that when people think of England they do not think of sprawling congested cities, but of our national heritage of woods and parkland and settled villages that have been created by generations of landowners. This fact alone justifies the hereditary right, for a man's estate does not die with him, although estate duty is based on the envious assumption that it should. The succession of hereditary Peers ensures that a small number of very young men become eligible to sit in the House of Lords, and the number of younger Members might well be augmented by voluntary retirement, in favour of an heir, if a Peer wished to relinquish his seat for any reason.
In every generation the frustration of the young derives in part from a sense of non-participation. Despite current indications to the contrary, it might be beneficial if presidents of university debating societies were invited once a year in turn to address the House, concisely setting forth the views of their society. This would prove of unexpected value to both sides, for it is an unfortunate fact that many people form their basic ideas in their student days and retain them, virtually unchanged, right through their lives. This legacy of outdated undergraduate thinking is only too evident in many political utterances to-day.
In conclusion, my Lords, I will not touch any further on the proposals set out in the White Paper, which have been fully dealt with by previous speakers. I believe that the House of Lords, in its reformed and extended role, will preserve its great authority, its independence in outlook, and dispassionate debates. I therefore will give my support to this Motion and the Government.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, I rise to speak only very briefly because I notice that so many of those who have pre 982 viously addressed your Lordships have had great qualifications in welcoming this White Paper. I am one of those who do so without any qualification. It is as long ago as 1932 that I began to interest myself in the problem of the reform of this House. I was then a newly elected and very youthful Member of another place. A Committee of Conservative Members of both Houses was set up at that time to consider what could be done in the way of bringing about some change in the composition and powers of this House. I need hardly say that at that time, as the Committee was entirely Conservative and consisted largely of elder statesmen, there was a good deal of suggestion of increasing the powers of this House.
After some time I began to find myself something of a heretic, and I then formed certain ideas which I find reproduced accurately in this White Paper, some 36 years later. I came to the conclusion that it was neither necessary nor desirable for the Upper House to have any increase in powers. I thought that with a changed composition and the end of heredity and no built-in Conservative majority, this House would have such greatly increased influence that it would be able to exert the powers that it had it that time but which it never felt able to exert. I also came to the conclusion that it was most undesirable that Members of the Upper House should be subject to any kind of election, whether election—as was often suggested at that time—by the House of Commons, or by local authorities, or, as is now being advocated, by regions.
I felt that nomination for life would give to Members of this House a great degree of independence of the Government, independence of the Party Whips if they were in Opposition, and independence of the electorate, and I am bound to say that after 25 years in another place and sonic six or seven years in this place I have come to the conclusion that one enjoys a freedom and liberty in this House of saying exactly what one believes to be true, which one did not venture to indulge to the same extent when one knew that a General Election faced one in the future. Therefore I believe that the system of nomination for life is likely to ensure for this House a degree of independence from outside pressure 983 which will preserve for the future one of its outstanding virtues at the present time.
I am also a supporter of the two-tier system. The noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, delighted us with her humour when she compared the two kinds of Peers of the future with the fourpenny and fivepenny stamps. We all enjoyed her humour, but I doubt whether it really had much bearing on the subject we are considering. I have had experience, in India as well as here, of the problem of finding suitable legislators. The difficulty confronting one is that in these days it is necessary to have professional legislators with considerable experience of procedure and the way in which a Legislature works, and who are able to give almost their whole time to making a Legislature work. At the same time, it is extremely desirable, especially in the case of an Upper Chamber, to be able to obtain the occasional attendance and advice of men of distinction and experience who are busy in the outside world and who are not able or willing to give up their time to constant attendance in a Legislature.
The only way in which I believe it is possible to reconcile the desirability of having those two entirely different kinds of legislators—the professional whole-timer who deals with the day-to-day business, and the distinguished people from outside who come to give their counsel on matters of high (and sometimes extremely specialised) import—is to have two different kinds of Peers. I certainly do not admit that the two-tier system means that one is in any way superior to the other: indeed, I am not sure that a great many people would not take the view that someone who held some high position in, shall we say, the City of London or in a trade union and could pay only occasional visits to the House, because his opinion was considered to be of such value, might be considered in some respects to he higher than an individual like myself, who for 25 years has applied himself fairly constantly to the daily work of this Palace.
I do not believe that this White Paper will bring about any revolutionary change. I should be opposed to it if I thought that it would. I do not believe that it will bring about any considerable or even 984 perhaps perceptible change in the atmosphere of your Lordships' House. What I believe it will do is to bring the system of recruitment to your Lordships' House more in line with the realities that have been developing ever since the Peerage Act was passed by a Conservative Government some four or five years ago.
Finally, I would say that on the one point at issue between those Leaders of the three Parties who collaborated so happily on this White Paper—that is to say, the matter of the timing of its coming into effect—I agree with the Government and not with my own Party:If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere wellIt were done quickly:I can see no object whatsoever in waiting for another General Election. The Government's position is quite clear on this matter—though not on some others. They put forward this proposal at the last General Election and secured a majority in the House of Commons with this as one of the known features of their programme. So far as we are concerned, I can think of nothing more desirable than that a measure ensuring the survival and, as I hope, the increased influence if not increased powers of your Lordships, should be introduced in a Parliament when a Socialist Government enjoy a large majority in another place. My Lords, I believe that this is an opportunity for my noble friends to embrace, and I believe it is a great opportunity which may not come again: indeed, I am convinced that if it is not seized now, it will not come again.
§ 9.38 p.m.
My Lords, I have been prompted to join in this debate because I understand that in the debate on Rhodesia last June, of 44 hereditary Peers who took part, 13 had held their title for over 100 years, and four of them had forebears who had voted against Mr. Lloyd George's Budget in 1909—and I was one of the four. I remember that year of 1909 very well indeed. I was an undergraduate, and one day I conveyed my father across to the House. In those days there was a cab shelter in Parliament Square. The cabbies were all standing about watching the Peers arrive, some by carriage-and-pair and one or two in horseless carriages, and when they saw my 985 rather young, pink and cheery face, they were very amused. They thought I was a Peer and they were rather ribald and gave me a rather ironical cheer. I was naturally very amused, and when I came out again after depositing my father at the Peers' Entrance, I made a point of going back to them and having a talk. When they realised that I was the youngest of three sons of a penniless Peer, and in this life was very unlikely ever to cross the portals of your Lordships' House, they were very nice and kind. We had a most interesting talk, varying from Mr. Lloyd George's iniquitous Budget, as we thought then, to various diseases in cab horses, and when I came back and walked across the park I was convinced more than ever that all men on the turf and under the turf are equal.
I happened to be reading the other day a book on politics. In it was a sonnet written in 1830 at the time of the Reform Bill, and I should like to quote the very last verse:Ye butterflies whom kings createYe caterpillars of the State,Know that your time is near.This moral learn if ye can scanGod in creation made He man,But never made a Peer.I do not know whether that still stands good 138 years hence. Personally, I do not quite believe it.
I am afraid I do not believe in ancestors. I agree with the late Sir Thomas Lipton who always used to say that ancestors are not much good to anybody; they are like potatoes, they are mostly under the earth. But I am a great believer in heredity. After all, is not heredity in us all? Do we not all inherit everything we have? We were first born; we inherit various characteristics. We may inherit wealth—it is probably taken away by the Inland Revenue as soon as we get it. Our various characteristics may be good, they may be bad, they may be vicious, they may be vices, they may be virtues, they may be disabilities, they may be such terrible things as inherent disease or madness or cancer, but we are all subject to them. To top it all, we also inherit our father's name, and if we inherit our father's name surely we are entitled to inherit his title: and if we inherit the title surely we arc entitled to inherit the privilege. But if we 986 inherit the privilege we must also inherit the obligations, and that is the only suggestion I have to make to your Lordships; that is, that if Peers cannot or will not attend or will not take their duties seriously then they must give them up entirely and be struck off the Roll of the House.
It would be a great impertinence for me to make any suggestions as to how your Lordships should put your House in order. I was intending to go into the Lobby with the noble Marquess, but since I have been here to-day I have been so much struck with various speeches, especially that of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that I am not certain what I am going to do. I hope that by tomorrow, having slept on it, I shill be able to make up my mind.
There is one further point I would make. There have been various remarks about the noble Lords on the Cross-Benches. I am on the Cross-Benches because I feel that I am old enough to know my own mind. Like a very famous Lord Chancellor in 1914, I can safely say that my spirit is on this side of the House, but I cannot really feel that I am entitled to sign my name on the dotted line; and I therefore am going to stay where I am, but I am always trying to vote according to my conscience and nothing else. I have nothing more to say. I can only pray that this edifice which has been built so well and for so long will find a secure foundation for the future.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, what has surprised me a little during the course of this debate is that so little has been said of what is widespread comment outside. One sees it in the Press, and one is continually hearing it in conversation. It is this: that the growing power of the Executive should be checked. That is being said everywhere. It is against that background that I propose to make the few remarks that I desire to make to your Lordships.
When we look at this White Paper it does nothing to increase the checks; in fact it reduces them, certainly so far as subordinate legislation is concerned. It will enable a future Government to pass legislation through the last Session of a dying Parliament even though that 987 Government has entirely lost the confidence of the country. It also abolishes completely the hereditary principle. And all this as a result of a bargain between the Leaders of the two great political Parties without any reference to the electorate whatsoever. That, to my mind, is certainly not democracy. In the words of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, the object of the exercise is to get a more efficient Parliament. But more efficient for what, my Lords? The way things are going, more efficient for carrying out the will of the Executive, and at a time when many people believe that its power has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. I believe there is much more public concern about that aspect of the matter than the dislike of the Party opposite for the hereditary principle.
I have not been very long in your Lordships' House, but I was for a third of a century in the other place, and I loved it. I had a great respect for it, and still have; but for many years now changes have been creeping over the other place which sadden me, and I want to say something about them. When I first got into the House of Commons, quite a long time ago now, the tradition there was that one of the main functions of Parliament was to keep a check on the Executive, in the interests of the liberty of the subject. That was the tradition in which we were brought up; that was how our procedure was modelled; redress of grievance before Supply, and so on. But to-day that appears to be turned upside down, and it seems to me now that the main function of that institution is to streamline Government business.
I remember the old days when I was a young Parliamentary Private Secretary and used to sit in with my Minister and other Ministers, with the civil servants of the Department, and discussions used to take place on forthcoming legislation. How often did a civil servant say: "Minister, what is the House of Commons going to say to that?" And that question preoccupied their minds a good deal. I wonder whether to-day it preoccupies the minds of the bureaucracy to the same extent.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Speak- 988 ing as a Minister I can say that it preoccupies their minds all the time.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, I am glad to hear it. All I can say is that I shall be most surprised if the thought, perhaps unspoken, does not pass through their minds that, if the worst comes to the worst, the payroll vote can be put into operation. I am coming to that, because I want to quote from The Times of yesterday, or the day before, which said:A senior member of the Labour Party said last night that the restiveness among Labour Back-Benchers is so widespread that the Government will have to call on the payroll vote if they want to beat the revolt when the vote is taken tomorrow night.I look back to the old days, when I was a Whip. A statement of that sort, and the implication behind it, would have amounted almost to a call for a finding of breach of privilege. That that sort of thing can be said, and that people regard it as perfectly normal, is to my mind an indication of the lowering of the prestige of the House of Commons; and I find it most distressing.
My Lords, I come now to say something about the powers which can be exercised by the Whips. I was a Whip in the old days, and the biggest sanction we had between the wars was probably that if members "kicked over the traces" they would not get an invitation to the next Garden Party. Well, that was not much of a sacrifice: it might have caused them "wife trouble", but not much more. But to-day the sanctions of the Whips in the House of Commons are quite different, and, as The Times points out, they now can call on what is termed the "payroll vote". This diminishes the esteem in which the House of Commons is held in the country, and one gets the reflection of that in the lowering regard which is today held in the country for politicians of all sorts and of which we all know.
The remark was made to me the other day—I am not going to say who made it, because that would not be fair: "What is happening to-day is that every four or five years the country is electing a virtual dictatorship for the following four or five years". In his speech this afternoon my noble friend Lord Butler said that you can rely on the House of Commons to bring down a Government. 989 I only wish I could agree with him. The Chamberlain Government was brought down in 1940 by a vote in the House of Commons. But to-day, such are the pressures which can be brought by the Government I believe that that safeguard is virtually non-existent. That worries me, and I believe that it worries a great many people in the country to-day.
I do not want to keep your Lordships for long, and I therefore turn to another aspect which has been talked of in this debate, the question of the hereditary principle. Much has been said about the pity of doing away with that, "scrubbing it out" altogether, and I am not going to say more about that, except that I agree with everything that has been said in favour, not of the preservation of the whole thing but of some form of the hereditary principle. May I again quote The Times for just a moment? It says:The one anxiety which is felt about the abolition of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords is that it might seem to attack the hereditary principle in the case of the Monarchy.Well, my Lords, I know that many people think that that anxiety is quite absurd. But I do not myself dismiss that anxiety, and I will tell your Lordships why. We have, through our history, deprived the Monarchy of power as part of the process that has gone on of checking the Executive, but we have not deprived the Monarchy of the right to be consulted, to warn, and to advise. The hereditary Peerage, however, is to be deprived of all this. After the present second-tier hereditary Peers, there will be no more; so the Peerage is to be deprived of something which is still left to the hereditary Monarchy.
I am certainly not a Republican—I do not suppose there is a Republican in this House. But there are Republicans in the country. There have been Republican movements in the past, and there may be again in the future. If I were a Republican I should rejoice at the precedent which is now being created destroying entirely the hereditary principle in the Peerage. They can then quote it as a precedent in support of the Republican movement to destroy the Monarchy, and that is the reason why I dislike it. Some people say that that fear is unfounded, but I can only offer 990 it to your Lordships as a perfectly genuine fear, and one which is shared.
The debate has been wide and long. The sum total of these proposals is to increase the power of the Executive at a time when those who cherish liberty should be devoting their thoughts to reducing the growth of authoritarianism. I am not against reform—far from it! But when I see the power of the House of Commons to curb the Executive decreasing all the time, as it is, I want to see reform which is directed to arresting the danger of this creeping power of authoritarianism. This White Paper does not do that. If it does anything, it does the reverse; it will put more power into the hands of the Executive. For that reason I shall vote against it in the Lobby to-morrow.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, as one would expect, we have had a diversity of views in this debate, and at one stage I found myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, in the course of his vigorous speech. The point at which I found myself in agreement was when he said that to-night we were, in fact, discussing the abolition of the House of Lords and the creation of a new Second Chamber. There is, in a sense, a great deal of truth in that. Normally, under our Constitution, and in our political development over a very long period of time, forms have remained the same while the substance behind the forms has changed to conform with the realities of changing times. That is what is happening, I believe, in the changes which we are discussing this evening.
The House of Lords is an issue which gives rise to deep passions in the other place—indeed, it does also in a good many other places where political discussions take place—and it gives rise to deep passions because of the past traditions and the past position of your Lordships' House. In a number of speeches we have had a hankering after the hereditary principle and, if I may say so, perhaps some overstatement of the contribution which the House of Lords has made in the past in exercising a check upon Governments. I was most interested by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grimston, and his references to the power of the Executive and the position 991 of the Whips. In the course of considering this debate my mind went back to two occasions in the past when there have been Conservative Governments in power, and when vitally important and controversial decisions and actions have been taken. My mind went back to the time of Munich and to the time of the Suez war. On both occasions in the field of foreign affairs actions were taken which many people in the country profoundly believe to have been unwise and immoral. I refreshed my memory on the contribution made by the House of Lords at that time, especially in view of the fact that, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Grimston, will agree, those were both occasions when, according to popular political comment, the Government Whips in the House of Commons were exceedingly active—using, I think, something a little more influential than threats to withhold an invitation to the Buckingham Palace Garden Party.
My noble Lords, is the noble Lord referring to the House of Commons to-night and the Government Whip operating there?
§ LORD DELACOURT-SMITH
My Lords, I am referring to the situation in another place on the occasion of the Munich Agreement and the Suez war, both occasions when Government Whips were exceedingly active. If noble Lords will refresh their memories by looking at the debates at that time, they will see that the House of Lords on both occasions showed singularly little inclination to give expression to criticism of the Government of the day. We did not have this independence of mind which some of those who have spoken of the hereditary principle would lead us to expect. We did not have the vigorous criticism of the Executive which many citizens, irrespective of Party, believed was justified.
Some of the criticisms which have been made of the proposals before us, some of the defences of existing systems, have reminded me, in their character and symptoms and in their phraseology, of the criticisms which were offered on the Reform Bill of 1832. For example, we have had the argument that change in the system will deprive this House of a 992 small number of talented young men. This was precisely the argument put forward, with a good deal of justification, for the pocket boroughs. One really cannot, by citing one feature of a system which has been in existence, justify maintaining all the remaining features which have become so repugnant to political opinion.
There are some people who take the cynical view that it is best for the House of Lords to be allowed to continue to be a greater and greater anachronism, with make-believe powers, because in those circumstances, although it may not do much good, it cannot do a great deal of harm. I do not share that view. I believe that every part of our Parliamentary institution should play a relevant and contemporary part. In fact, that issue has already been decided. The decision to inject the concept of Life Peerages meant that the idea of allowing the House of Lords to wither away had been rejected.
The case to-day for further reform is overwhelming, but in making those reforms I hope that we shall avoid, as many noble Lords on both sides have said, the danger of an excessive professionalism in your Lordships' House. We must have a body of working Peers. But the contribution which can be made by those who cannot be such regular attenders is a distinctive and real one. My own view is that more and more we shall find that the feature of our proceedings which becomes of greatest importance is what is described in the White Paper as the provision of a forum for full and free debate on matters of public interest. I hope that we shall treat with care the question of remuneration. There is nothing I want to say on this subject, since everything I wished to say has been said by my noble friend, Lord Sorensen, who said it far more adequately in a far more moving fashion that I should have achieved. He made a point of the greatest importance about the future effectiveness and dignity of this House.
But, my Lords, the most extraordinary of all the arguments that have been put forward in criticism of these proposals is that they would make your Lordships' House a House of nominees, a House 993 (somebody picked up this phrase) of lackeys, a House of puppets. If that is indeed a great danger, we are very far on the way to it already, because the facts and figures are on record; they can be found in the White Paper. Of the working House, of the regular attenders in this House, a majority, albeit a small majority, irrespective of Party, are Peers of first creation or Life Peers. We have already, then, in our normal proceedings, a majority of nominees. But is that in itself so dreadful a prospect? Is it really the case that hereditary succession alone can ensure integrity and independence?
It has been my privilege to be a Member of your Lordships' House for only just over 12 months, but in the course of that time two debates come to my mind, as they will come to the mind of every noble Lord—the debate on Stansted Airport and the Second Reading debate on the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. I should have thought that those two debates alone, taking place within a period of 12 months, had demonstrated without a possibility of doubt the integrity and the independence of view of the Members who sit here as Peers of first creation or as Life Peers—those nominees of whom some in this House and some outside this House have sometimes tended to speak with scorn. Let those debates be read along with the debates on Munich and Suez, and let the judgment be made whether there has been greater integrity. greater independence and greater vigour in a House with a substantial injection of nominees than there was in a House with a larger hereditary element.
But, of course, the nomination of Members of this House by Prime Ministers—and it seems to be regarded by some noble Lords that there is something particularly dreadful about nomination by a Prime Minister—is not in itself a new thing. The power of Prime Ministers to create Members of this House, to add to the Peerage, has been liberally and vigorously used for at least seventy years. Again, the figures are in the White Paper. There were 590 Members of your Lordships' House in the year 1900. There are now over 1,000 eligible to sit in this House; and those additional creations are far from all having been made in the last five or six 994 years. It has already been pointed out that in fact such patronage as is proposed, the privilege of creating additional Peers, Members of your Lordships' House, will in effect be shared between the political Parties so far as the political nominees are concerned, leaving aside, of course, the very valuable element of Cross-Bench Peers. The power that Prime Ministers had in the past was an unqualified power, an unlimited power, to recommend to the Sovereign the creation of Peers; and everyone is aware of the occasions, not only when that power has been exercised liberally but when the threat has been made to use it on a very wide scale indeed.
So I believe, my Lords, that if we look at some of these issues in the perspective of our political history, we need not feel, any of us, that the proposals now made are quite so calamitous as some have suggested. For myself, I think that changes along the lines of those embodied in the White Paper open up for your Lordships' House a new period of usefulness, of dignity and of prestige. Perhaps, if I may say so, they will be accompanied by some improvement in the facilities with which we carry out our work in this building. I do not believe that there is another Upper House in the world which would put up with the facilities, or lack of facilities that we experience here. But I believe that we can, on the basis of this White Paper, envisage for your Lordships' House a position which is a vital one, recognised as valuable and relevant by politically interested citizens, and that we can begin a period in which this House will not be lower in prestige or public esteem but higher.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I should not have very great difficulty in agreeing in general terms to the general principles of the Government Motion and of the White Paper which accompanies it. I have always sought to see reform of this House by limiting the numbers of Peers who would take effective part in its activities and deliberations, and I should have liked to see that major reform at the time, some ten years ago, when we were discussing and passing the Life Peerages Act. I had visualised a House of about 250 Members, half Life 995 Peers and half hereditary Peers. Now we have a variation of that, and perhaps in its initial stages it will not vary very much from the proportions I have mentioned if first creations are counted as hereditary Peers—and they, of course, are hereditary Peers. But when it comes to the details of the legislation which we shall no doubt be studying next year, I may in some respects have rather more difficulty in agreeing to the Government proposals.
To be very brief, there are three main criticisms, as I see it. The first is the reduction of the powers of this House to interfere with subsidiary legislation. I strongly support the suggestion of my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn who, at the opening of to-day's debate pleaded for reconsideration of this matter and made the suggestion that in respect of subsidiary legislation which was not of an urgent character your Lordships should have the same powers as you have in respect of Public Bills; that is, a delay of six months from the point of disagreement. Subsidiary legislation is something which all Governments have increasing recourse to nowadays; and it is precisely in that field where the most damage can be done, and quite unintentionally done, to the rights of individual citizens.
Much of this legislation is put forward on the arbitrary decision of one Minister or one senior civil servant, and it slips through Parliament perhaps without the consideration which it should have. There have been cases of this in the recent past and I am sure that there will be more in the future. It is very dangerous that another place should be allowed to adopt this form of legislation with increasing frequency without sufficient check upon it. One thing I feel quite sure about is that if the suggestion of my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn is not accepted—and even if it is—there would have to be at the same time a very important increase in the duties and powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner, the Ombudsman. Only in that way could we be sure that legislation of this nature does not go through to the detriment of private citizens.
The second criticism refers to the gradual abolition of the speaking and nonvoting element. It seems to me that this is not at all desirable. It will not increase 996 the effectiveness of your Lordships' House but will seriously diminish it. My first point is that it is quite unnecessary, and I would quote the White Paper itself as evidence of this. When referring to the two-tier system, it says at the end of paragraph 30, speaking of non-voting Peers:… but since they would not be entitled to vote, all connection between the hereditary principle and the power to vote would be severed immediately.If that is the case, what is the necessity to abolish the hereditary element in the non-voting but speaking House? I think that this is a foolish thing to do, and not in the interests of the House.
One effect is that we shall be depriving ourselves of younger Peers. I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor rather "pooh-poohed" this idea. He gave us figures about the number of young Peers taking part—which certainly were not impressive—and went on to say, "Unless we consider people are young up to the age of 50." But as my noble friend Lord Salisbury neatly pointed out, of 155 Life Peers, or of those taking an active part in your Lordships' House, only three were under 50. It is the 40 age-group who will be sorely missed in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that this is a point which has not been sufficiently considered.
The second argument in respect of the hereditary element in the speaking but non-voting side of the House is that these Peers bring with them a knowledge of the various regions of the country which it would be difficult to replace. The third point is the opportunity they give to people who, like it or not, are brought up in a tradition of public service. Many Peers of hereditary title—indeed, I would say most of them—are unknown in public life until they come to your Lordships' House and get an opportunity to show their worth. There are many noble Lords on the Front Bench, certainly on this side of the House, who have made their names since they came here but who were not heard of before. How are we going to give an opportunity to such Peers? It is said that it is up to the political Parties to find the people to nominate, but it will not be easy if these Peers are not to be given an opportunity to show their worth. I know that it is said in the White Paper that men and 997 women of distinction will be nominated to the speaking side of the House. Whereas Peers in that position now might be content to continue in that position, because of the affection they feel for the House and their interest in its work, I doubt very much whether Peers who cannot vote will be willing to come to your Lordships' House. If this is the case, they will not replace the loss which will be felt by the phasing-out of the hereditary element in the speaking side.
My next criticism is on the differentiation between created hereditary Peers, first creations, and the older hereditary titles. In the White Paper such Peers have been lumped together with Life Peers, and I do not think this is very helpful. I would suggest that hereditary Peers of the first creation should not be given a prior claim, as they are in the present proposals, to a voting seat in your Lordships' House.
If your Lordships look at the figures, you will see that the Conservative and Liberal Parties and the Cross-Benchers may find themselves in serious difficulties. But not so with the Labour Party, because the majority are already Life Peers. If you consider the point particularly of the Cross-Benchers, 52 were attending regularly in the last Session, half of them created Peers and half Peers by succession. This means that there would only be four places for Peers by succession in the Cross-Benches, because the others would be pre-empted by those of the first creation. Is this very helpful?
I am not really making a plea for the older hereditary element, but for the greater efficiency and competence of your Lordships' House. I think it should be 998 possible, apart from Life Peers, for all the political Parties and the Cross-Benchers to choose among the hereditary element, including those of the first creation, those who have shown most aptitude for work in your Lordships' House. If all these 38 created Peers who attended regularly among Conservatives, most of whom I think in our case will be hereditary Peers and not Life Peers, and the 24 who attended less than 33 per cent. change their minds and propose to pay more regular visits to your Lordships' House, the possibility of the older hereditary element taking part will be almost entirely eliminated. Among that hereditary element there are many on our own Front Bench, and it would be a bad thing for your Lordships' House. I suggest that if this sort of detail is to be put into the Bill, all hereditary Peers, whether first creation or not, should go into the pool, so to speak, so that there is wider scope of choice.
These are the only comments that I wish to make. I think the good will that has been shown on all sides of the House is a good omen. I hope that we shall be able to build a House really effective. respected even more than it is now, and one which will retain its character and tradition. When the Bill comes forward, if a few of the suggestions which have been made from all sides are taken up, then I think we can look forward to a happy and useful future. I, for one, shall not regret the theoretical disappearance of the hereditary element, so long as I can feel sure that many among that hereditary element will have the chance to continue the public service which they have given in the past.
§ 10.24 p.m.
My Lords, at this late hour my intervention will be only a brief one, and if my few remarks appear to be disjointed I hope that your Lordships will not think that I am being discourteous; I am simply trying to save time. Before I speak about the few points of which I have made a note, I should like to refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith. I entirely agree with what he said about our facilities. If this House in the future is to work efficiently many of the facilities that we have at the moment, which must be as poor as those of any Parliament in Europe, will have to be improved.
But having said that, I cannot go the whole way with the noble Lord about the Prime Minister's patronage, because, although it is true that many of us who enjoy the privilege of being Members of this House do so because the Prime Minister of the day made a recommendation to the Sovereign, the fact remains that it has not been normal for the Prime Minister to make such recommendations by the dozen and with a salary attached which will continue until the age of 72. That is a big difference which I do not think the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor fully made clear when he spoke at the opening of this debate.
The very few further remarks I wish to make are based on things I have noticed in the practical workings of Parliament during my time both in another place and in the four short years that I have been a Member here. In spite of much discouragement, I have held to the slender hope over the years of seeing some reform of this House in my time. I hope that, even if we cannot reach agreement on all that we should like to now, we shall not throw away the chances. Again, if I may refer to the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, it looks as if in another place only a few minutes ago the Government's Motion has been saved by the votes of the Party which he was so ready to criticise. If we cannot do all that we would do now, at least let us do what we can. Let us do something to make this Chamber not only more effective but known throughout the country for being more effective; and, further, make it a more appropriate partner for the other place, where long hours and ever-greater pressure still do not prevent it from skimping more and more 1000 work, which lowers the prestige of Parliament, not only in the eyes of all of us but also in the eyes of the nation.
All of us agree that, whatever change we may be considering for this House, it must mean a great difference and a reduction in the hereditary principle. But acceptable reforms to me also mean great care to preserve the best of our traditions, our unique freedom, our unique independence. I wonder whether there is any other assembly, any other Parliament in Europe, where a member can speak quite so freely and for quite so long as a Member can in your Lordships' House, and with less risk of being shut up either by his fellow Members or by the Government. That is a gift and a privilege which is important. not just to us but to the whole of Europe. In this care to preserve the best of our traditions I should much prefer to see a small hereditary element retained, rather than to see an abrupt end with, as it were, a downgrading of all but a selected few Peers by succession. In a minute I shall be coming back to the merits of this proposal.
I recognise that the subject we are debating arouses strong political feelings, stronger than I think they need be in 1968. considering the broad measure of agreement we have now reached about the changes. None the less, it is no good pretending that reform of the House of Lords is not a highly political subject. We have only to read this morning's newspapers to confirm that it is. In 1948. I believe it was political differences that prevented much from being done which ought to have been done and which the country would have liked to see done. In 1958 the Labour Party divided the House of Commons on the Second Reading of a Bill making possible the creation of Life Peers. In 1968 we see a great step forward towards agreement because these same Life Peers are now made the keystone of the proposed reforms. If there is joy over sinners that repent, none the less there is no reason for us to put more trust in the judgment of noble Lords opposite about the future. Their White Paper is indeed very wide, and because its implications are so wide we ought to consider them carefully. Yet, because of, he hour, I am going to limit my comments to four points, and make them as brief as I possibly can.
1001 First, I say straight out that I do not like the idea that all created Peers, below a certain age, should have the right to become members of a voting tier, whatever their interest in the general working of Parliament may have been demonstrated to be. I appreciate the value of eminent men coming here who cannot give a great deal of their time to this House; and it is natural, perhaps, that I, having come from the other place, should have certain prejudices because of my Parliamentary experience and because we are naturally encouraged to put in more time than others who come from other walks of life. None the less, I am going to ask this question. Why should those who do little more than come here on a rare day, make their speech and then, as often as not, go away, and who never put in a single hand's turn of work on a Committee stage of a Bill, be supposed to be better qualified to vote in Parliament than many Peers by succession who have given a large part of their lives to this House and to learning its ways, which are not all learned over a week-end?
My second point concerns something that appears towards the end of the White Paper. In paragraph 71 there is the familiar device of a committee. When thinking is not entirely clear it is customary to-day to fall back on a committee. If this particular committee should end up with too much power it would he highly objectionable, and if it should have none it would be quite unnecessary. Since this country is overburdened with committees we should all be chary of accepting even one more, and I would have thought that, if no one else in this country is to be allowed to manage his own affairs in his own way, at least Parliament should be allowed to do so.
My third point concerns the age of voting Members. The first aspect of this problem is that I do not like an arbitrary age limit. We do not all become old at the same time, and this is to be an age limit from which Ministers and Law Lords are to be favoured exceptions. From my experience even a junior Minister has a much heavier load to bear than a Back-Bench Member of either House of Parliament, and it seems totally illogical that he should now be presumed to be more able to bear that load into the 70s.
1002 The second aspect of the problem is that since few new creations of Peers wishing to accept the responsibility of voting are likely to be made before the age of 50 (and that is a fair assumption, in the light of our experience and of what has been said during the two days of this debate), and many may be older, our voting strength in the proposed House, as I see it, will mostly fall within the age bracket of 55 to 70. I do not think it is unfair to ask whether that is likely to command the confidence of the country, and particularly the confidence of the younger generation, who are continually besieging their professors in their university buildings.
My last comment concerns regional representation, and in this I include the different parts of England: I mean something wider than just Scotland and Wales. From my observations over the few years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I can say fairly that. except on days when Scottish business is being discussed, this House is much too heavily weighted by Londoners and Peers living in the home counties. I do not want to see a House where Members spend their time hunting constituency hares, as happens at the other end of the corridor. None the less, I think it important that we should be able to interpret the different points of view and feelings of the different regions of the United Kingdom, and this may well become more important in the years lying immediately ahead. The White Paper pays lip service to this but it does not do much more.
There has been no collusion between me and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, but my final paragraph is a suggestion which I think might meet the last two of my comments or criticisms. None that I have noticed during the time I have been in this House has been better able to speak for the different regions of England, as well as for Scotland and Wales, than those in whose families it is a tradition of generations to serve in their counties as well as in Parliament. I should like to ask your Lordships why the hereditary Peers, acting as an electoral college, should not be empowered to elect, say, 50 of their number from different parts of the United Kingdom as voting Peers. This could be worked out on the basis o' the experience We have had in Scotland. If something of that sort could be embodied 1003 in the reformed Chamber, I believe that we should have a better Chamber than that which is sketched out in the White Paper.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, the publicity recently given to the reform of your Lordships' House has not been an unmixed blessing for myself, because recently an acquaintance of my university days telephoned me to ask whether I could recall that in 1934. when he asked me if I would take my seat in your Lordships' House when my time came. I laid him a wager of £5 that there would not be a House of Lords then. Though I disclaim the wager I admit to the sentiment, and I think reform of your Lordships' House is long overdue. Over many years we have been portrayed by cartoonists as a gang of "chinless wonders" with very low I.Q.s and that sort of thing, and it is about time we were so altered as to have a slightly different public face.
I think the Government have done well in the White Paper, in view of the pressures that are upon them. I see three main pressures, the first one from the single-Chamber addicts; and they, to my mind, are out of touch with reality: only a country of the size of. say, New Zealand could in a single Chamber, under a democracy as we know it in these days, cope with the plethora of legislation. Secondly, there are the proponents of an elected Second Chamber. This is the form, on a regional basis, which I would theoretically favour. But an elected Chamber would have to have more powers, and in these days of envy, hatred and malice I cannot personally see a jealous "other place" allowing a Second Chamber any more powers than those envisaged in the White Paper. Thirdly, a Chamber had to be devised whereby the permanent Tory majority was obliterated, and that has already been achieved.
However, having said that, I think some word of consolation should be passed to the hereditary Peers, of whom I am one. Whether you like to call it sour grapes or not, some sort of consolation should be envisaged. I invite your Lordships to consider our history—everybody has 1004 a different view of history, so it is very easy to say that. First of all, we were ruled by an absolute monarchy and we went ahead compared with the rest of the world. Then, under a limited monarchy our standard of living compared favourably with our neighbours. Under a Cromwellian dictatorship the value of the pound did not slip all that amount. Then we were ruled by an aristocracy and created the biggest Empire the world has ever known. Under a limited aristocracy we retained it. And since about 1920, when we gave girls the vote at 21, we became a democracy. Need I say more?
I have been much amused by the recent correspondence in The Times on the subject of heredity. I think, generally speaking, heredity has taken a pretty tough caning. I thought the greatest compliment was in the letter that stated more or less that if we were bred for anything it was for the battlefield and the boudoir. The attributes which come with both of those pursuits—diplomacy, tactics, courage and good earthy realism—are surely of some use to the nation. On the latter point of realism, I was rather attracted to the newspaper columnist who, referring to the economic position in which we find ourselves and relating that to our being governed by so many dons, said that we should never have been in such a state financially if we had had a Government made up ofrural aristocrats, semi-literate businessmen and old-fashioned trade unionists".But, tongue in cheek aside, I think logically we should have an elected Senate, although, as I have explained, that is not practical. To do the job that has to be done at the least expense to the country, we should leave well alone. But the climate of political opinion rules that out. In the circumstances, I think the Government's White Paper has taken the best choice. However, to be honest, they should call their nominated Second Chamber a "Senate". In 1866 the Swedish House of Nobles was, to all intents and purposes, abolished. I do not think I could do better than end by quoting the farewell words of the last Marshal of State, Count Gustav Lagerbjelke: 1005Laws can be changed, rights can be abolished, but duties to the fatherland remain; and if those duties be well fulfilled it troubles the true nobility but little where their place is set in the community.
§ 10.42 p.m.
My Lords, I came here yesterday with a prepared speech in my pocket and, after listening to the many excellent speeches from so many noble Lords, I went home last night and put my speech in the family archives. I had intended to withdraw my name and save the time of this House, but, as my opinion has hardened against these proposals and I may vote with the Not-Contents in the Division to-morrow, I think I should say as briefly as I can why I may do that.
On the abolition of the hereditary principle I have nothing to say, except that I regret its passing. But I accept that it is no longer a valid basis, by itself alone, for membership of this House in the future. However, I warmly support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, whose sensible and entertaining speech we all enjoyed so much yesterday, that Peers by succession should retain an opportunity of apprenticing themselves through the two-tier system. I agree with the advantages which he said would come from this arrangement, and it has received support from many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Perth. It might agree with what the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, said, when he spoke about the need for some refreshing advice from young persons. I very much hope that the Government may look at this point again, objectively.
My main objections to these proposals for reform lie not in regard to composition but to powers, for I am convinced that without real powers this House will become no more than a standing committee reviewing legislation for which another place has insufficient time. Despite the apparent slight increase in time in the power to delay—that is, a full six months from the time of disagreement—there are several provisions in the White Paper which will speed up the whole process of contentious legislation through this House. They will considerably reduce the impact of your Lordships' future disapproval of any Bill, 1006 to such an extent that any legislation can be introduced in another place by a Government with only an adequate majority, in the knowledge that your Lordships' approval or disapproval is virtually irrelevant to its eventual passing into law, and that a matter of a few months, at worst, is the sole impediment to its becoming effective. This, I suggest, will make future discussion of legislation in this House of sc little importance that it will cease to have any significance and lead to an early abandonment of this Upper Chamber as part of the British Constitution, and therefore to one-Chamber rule.
But my principal misgiving on powers concerns subordinate legislation. It seems to rile, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, emphasised so strongly yesterday—and the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, and Lord Butler also spoke strongly about this this afternoon—that in this wide field there is a growing risk of increased Governmental use of powers under the Statutory Instruments Act and through Orders in Council. In view of much that has happened in recent years I cannot think that the emasculation of your Lordships' powers is good for the country. I do not think there has been any great abuse of the powers of this House in this respect, and I believe that it is in the national interest that the Upper Chamber should retain some teeth to deter—and I say "deter" rather than prevent"—a Government from proceeding with some Order regardless of soundly expressed sectional interests.
My Lords, in his speech this afternoon the noble Earl, Lord Longford, spoke of the influence of this House and of the greater influence it would have when reformed. With the greatest respect to the former Leader of this House, I greatly wonder whether the reduction of the powers of the House of Lords will in fact lead to an increase in its influence. I was taught in my formative years that politics was about power and the use of power, and I am still of that opinion. I realise that the powers of this House are a most serious and hotly contentious issue. But my voice is for adequate powers that mean something; powers which, wisely handled, can deter. If they do not exist, I do not believe that there 1007 can be justification for a Second Chamber in the Legislature, and I greatly doubt whether these proposals will preserve any weight behind your Lordships' decisions in the future.
Finally, I should like to say a brief word as a Cross-Bencher. The proposals are such, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, admitted this afternoon, that there may be an ultimate balance of voting power slenderly held by the Cross-Benchers. That places a great responsibility in the composition of these nonaligned Benches, and it is pertinent to ask by what method the Cross-Bench Peers would be selected as Lords of Parliament. In his forceful speech yesterday, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, at the end of saying much with which I was in close agreement, rounded on the Cross-Benches in a way that I must say I found unnecessarily severe. There are some of my noble friends here who attend regularly, and I am sure that a reformed House would have every confidence in their impartial judgment.
Sometimes it is a good thing that we who sit here are free to vote as we think right, untrammelled by the cares of Party and political attitudes. However, there are also those among us on these Benches whose allegiance to one side of the House or the other is well known, and though they sit with us by reason of being Chairmen of national bodies, the selection of Lords of Parliament to sit in this part of the House has always seemed to me to be a remarkably difficult proposition. I would think it logical, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Swanborough, that in the reformed House Cross-Benchers should be nominated only from among those who bear no allegiance to a Party, for I fear that the numbers of those who are truly non-aligned who may sit on these Benches in the future may well be reduced through Party pressures.
In conclusion, and because of my real fears on the drastic reduction of the powers of this House, I would say that I am likely to vote against the Motion tomorrow. I am still open to persuasion, but unless 1 am convinced by what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, may say in his winding-up speech to-morrow, that 1008 these proposals are a better alternative than maintaining the status quo, and am given some real indication that there is a hope of improving on these present terms, I shall exercise my vote against the proposals. I am not against change, but I am against change for the sake of change unless it is a change for the better.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, I seldom address your Lordships' Chamber but when I do I at least have one advantage: I speak very briefly and, I hope, to the point. I will not take up your time to-night. In fact, I should be down in five minutes, which will be a great relief to all present. First, I should like to say that this shows no disrespect to the House but I hope is just a matter of relief to those who follow me.
Basically I agree with the White Paper in broad terms. This is a slight "Irishism" because I feel that you either support it entirely, in which case you vote for it, or you disagree with it. However, I suppose, on reflection, one can support a White Paper in broad terms. The climate of this country does not support the hereditary principle; most of us accept this. The House must now have popular support if it is to have executive authority. This authority and power is essential to provide the constitutional safeguard which, in my opinion, should be the most important role of this Chamber. There are, of course, many other roles which this House can carry out, and carry out supremely well, but I should like to concentrate on the constitutional safeguard aspect. Provided this House has the authority given it by popular support, it could provide a constitutional safeguard, which I would interpret a[...] being the means of ensuring that the true will of the people of this country is interpreted in legislation.
To the man in the street, Parliament now leaves a lot to be desired. This has been accepted by speakers both in this House and in another place over the last two days. In fact, democracy appears to be constantly being weakened owing to the increase in statutory powers, removal of powers from local authorities and, ironically, the proposed contraction in the delaying powers of this House. The voter has little choice and, having cast his vote, is committed for the term 1009 of Parliament, whether the Government stick to their election pledges or flout them. Thus a Government can rule without a mandate. The decrease in the reputation of Parliament is caused by the increasing feeling of helplessness in the face of the power of "They". The suggestion I put forward would not have the support of the dedicated Parliamentarian, and is something that would come under the. aegis probably of the Constitutional Commission. However, if I may venture to continue, it would bring back a degree of democracy, which I feel is very necessary.
As I have said, I feel the six month delaying power is of no real value. Because the proposed constitution of this House under the White Paper would be entirely nominated, it would be hard to lay down any hard and fast rule at the moment. I feel that this House, instead of possessing delaying powers should have the right to refer any really important matter, any matter which would seriously divide the country, to a referendum. I appreciate that most Parliamentarians would feel chary of ever supporting something of that nature. However, in view of the amount of student unrest and other agitation in this country (and votes at 18 is only one concession, which may be too little, too late), this would give to the people of this country the right actually to participate.
I wish to make only one further point. The composition of this House must take into account those people who can judge the "feel" of the country. I submit that some of the younger Members of this House may perhaps be slightly more in touch. Youth is a relative matter. One can be young at 72 and old at 25. To a teenager, somebody of 25 or 30 is regarded as fast approaching senility. The noble Lord, the Leader of the House, in his interjection at the beginning of yesterday's debate said that he could see only two Members under 40. Admittedly, the noble Lord came back and said that they were hiding behind the Bar—I was not sure to which Bar he was referring. However, the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and I checked and we found that present in the Chamber at the time were 20 noble Lords under the age of 40 (who might be described as relatively young). We then went on to check how many noble Lords there were under 40. There 1010 are in fact 101; they are of course all hereditary. Therefore, with 20 o these noble Lords present, a turnout of 20 per cent. is not too bad a figure. Those under 40 who have to work, or certainly a good number of them, cannot put in the attendances. I appreciate, therefore, that in the recomposition of this House those under 40 would find it hard to put in the requisite number of attendances, and on that basis I certainly should be what has been referred to as a "fourpenny" rather than a "five-penny" Lord.
Rather than delay your Lordships any longer, I will end by saying that I feel it is essential that the participation of the ordinary man in the street in the Government of this country should be increased, so that he at least feels that he has participation. Secondly, those who are in this House in future must be in touch. Consequently, I feel that there is a case for some of the younger Members to be included among the voting Peers.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ LORD SWANSEA
My Lords, it is very late; this has been an extremely long debate, and I shall try not to detain you for very long. I should like to apologise in advance lest, unwittingly, I go over ground which has already been covered by more able speakers than myself. If I were a curate, and if this White Paper were put before me in the form of a boiled egg, I should be bound to admit that it was excellent in parts. Some parts of it I should like to keep well upwind of.
Most of us would agree that some measure of reform is necessary in this House; indeed, there are some who go so far as to say that it is overdue. The proposals which the Government have put before us are very far reaching, and I am bound to wonder, along, I am sure, with a great many of your Lordships, whether these reforms are necessary at this moment. Why is there such a hurry to push legislation through? Why is it so urgent that it cannot wait until the electorate of the country have had an opportunity to express its views? I cannot myself see the urgency, and I am tempted to wonder whether perhaps it is being put forward as a smokescreen for other purposes.
1011 Some of these proposals are, I think, fair enough; and the fact that all the existing hereditary Peers would in the first instance be free to sit and speak, at least as non-voting Members of this House, would ensure some continuity. But, of course, in due time those hereditary Peers would be, as it were, phased-out: they would no longer have the automatic right to sit and speak. I have been trying to look into the future a little, when the number of hereditary Peers sitting in this House as of right will become smaller and smaller and when more and more Life Peers will have to be appointed to fill their places. It is going to be a well-nigh impossible task to choose who are to be the new, voting "sheep" and who are to be the new, non-voting "goats". In years to come, I think this will be a very serious question for the Government of the day and for the Leaders of the other Parties, and it is going to be very hard, I think, for them to draw a distinction between the "sheep" and the "goats".
There is a very grave danger that in due time this House may become a sort of pensioning-off ground for Members of Parliament, trade unionists, county councillors, company directors, and anybody else you like to think of, who have served their time and are pensioned off here. The average age of Members of this House will go up and up, and there will be a grave need, as my noble friend who spoke before me said, for young blood. I can think of no other system except the hereditary system that will enable this House to count young men among its Members. The young men who sit on these Benches now, who have made and are still making a real contribution to the government of this country, have a worthwhile point of view to put and I believe that many of us would like to see that continue. I hope that when the Government introduce their Bill they may reconsider this point and perhaps allow Peers by succession to continue to sit and to speak as non-voting Members. Is it too much to hope for, I wonder?
The next question I want to deal with concerns the powers of the House. If this House is to be reformed, if it is 1012 accepted that it is necessary to reform it to make it a more representative, a more democratic and, by implication, a more efficient body, why in the name of sanity talk about reducing its powers? It just does not make sense. This House has a very important function to perform in reviewing and revising legislation. Naturally, it must keep a subordinate position to that of the elected Chamber. Nevertheless, it still has a very important function to perform. I think that few of us would wish to be Members of what would simply be—or could simply be—"a hot air" factory, with no powers at all.
I am glad to see that there are proposals to include some Peers who will be able to speak for the different regions of these Islands. I regard that as extremely important, because so many of your Lordships live or work in or near London and comparatively few can speak with any real authority on the more remote regions of the country. Naturally, it would be insincere of me to affect to be disinterested. To parody a once-popular song, "This old House" has served Parliament and the country very well for many hundreds of years. It is a curious vestigial remnant of the feudal system: it is illogical and undemocratic, but few can deny that it works—although it creaks a bit here and there.
My Lords, some people say that a Second Chamber should be abolished altogether. But that, I am sure, is a very mistaken view, because a Second Chamber is essential for the proper government of a country of this size. Some people would like a very radical reform, to make this House completely elected, completely representative, in one way or another—which would amount to jacking-up the Woolsack complete with its noble and learned incumbent and running a new House in under it. I do not think that any of us would like to see that. What we should have if the Government proposals go through will be a gradual reconstitution of the House. Let us hope that it will be a change for the better. I myself hope very much that this House will not have any less powers than it has now because it would be a complete farce if all its teeth were drawn.
1013 I should like now to go on record as supporting this Government White Paper in principle. But there are many aspects of it about which I have great misgivings. I hope that before the Government introduce their Bill they will take heed of what has been said in this House and in the other place and will have some regard to the views that have been expressed. My Lords, having started by talking about eggs, I will finish by talking about eggs. Perhaps from this dodo's egg, we may yet see a phœnix arise.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I, too, must apologise for my non-appearance for the general substance of this debate. I have been, as often I am, on ecclesiastical business which has required my presence elsewhere; but I have endeavoured to cull what information I can from one or two recent ecclesiastical occasions (and not a few occasions in Hyde Park) and should like to spend a little time in hanging what I have to say on the pegs of various impressions I have gained from those two fora. The singular thing is that both among the crowds in Hyde Park and the select groups of Methodists there is considerable congruity. I must say that there does not seem to be great deal of violent enthusiasm for the White Paper. This may be because there has been a general impression that this House has acquitted itself with considerable success and has been demonstrating an increased usefulness, without the kind of patronage which has been said in some quarters to exist.
This does not in any way invalidate the second comment, which is equally unanimous: that the hereditary principle is intolerable. There can be no doubt about this. And from every standard of common sense and moral principle, it would seem to me that the White Paper is entirely right and should commend itself to all of us. The preservation of the hereditary principle is strictly intolerable.
The question of the sort of patronage that will ensue if not clear in the minds of many people. Though I am assured, reading Hansard, that there is no real danger that patronage will be increasingly in the hands of one or two people, I am sure that many could be much influenced by information that would give 1014 them the assurance that there is a close and careful discipline and a wide and ample opportunity for views to be expressed and decisions to be made in a context which is wider than that of the competence or opinion of one or two people. If this is so, I, for one, am satisfied. But it is not clear from the White Paper and certainly it is not clear to many people who have opinions on these matters. With regard to the general behaviour pattern of the reformed House, there are minor questions which are still in dubiety, but in general it appears to many people and to me to be a workable scheme. If it is an interim scheme, as I dare say it may well be, that does not in any way invalidate its usefulness. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why it should commend itself to your Lordships.
What has exercised a great many people is a matter to which perhaps little attention has been paid in this debate. There is a widespread feeling among the less religious, and even among the hardened churchgoers, that one of the things which ought to be changed is the title. I just report to your Lordships that this exacerbates more feeling than any other issue. Whether this has a superficial attractiveness to noble Lords or not, it has some initial attractiveness to me. Yet the more I think about it, the more complicated the issue becomes. After all, I have been revered, technically and honourably, for some forty years, and therefore it has been a comedown for me, in joining your Lordships' House, to become just "My Lord". The principle of reverence is not sufficient in itself but has to be accompanied by "most reverend", the superlative, or "very reverend", the comparative, and "right reverend"—to say nothing of fairly or rather reverend, which would cover the generality of us all—in order to make it clear that the word means something. The fact remains that when we think of these titles, they probably become more attractive when they lose their moral and intellectual content. After all, if we "worship" mayors we should not trouble too much about calling each other "My Lord". I am perfectly willing that the title should disappear; and I must say that generally in Hyde Park I am not called "My Lord".
1015 These are matters which have attracted the attention of people outside your Lordships' House, and I would conclude this brief part of what I have to say by the general comment that it seems to them to be a workable scheme that ought to be tried; that if it has to be altered later on, well and good, but let us get on with it as quickly as possible.
The other point that I want to make, quite briefly, is this. I think I am the second priest in Holy Orders, or as we say "Methodist in good full connection", who has taken part in your Lordships' House in this debate. If I am unfair to my noble friend Lord Sorensen, if he is still in good connection, I apologise to him, and I am sure he will forgive me. But that would only make me third in the running, anyhow. I would entirely and with confidence endorse all that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester had to say about the desirability of increasing the religious, the theological, but not necessarily the theocratic element in your Lordships' House.
This poses a number of quite practical questions. For good or ill, Bishops are there for a very long time, and in fact can be there almost in temporal perpetuity. But with Methodist Presidents we take the precaution of only letting them loose for one year, and therefore it would be impossible to copy the Mussolini principle—the one principle which it seems to me commends his regime—the appointment on a corporative basis of those who represent particular grades and institutions in society. It would be impossible to do that in regard to ecclesiastical representation, because you would be faced with the fact that you would be putting a vast number of entirely desirable colleagues into positions of continuity in your Lordships' House, when they would in fact only enjoy their spiritual power for a very short time.
It seems to me, so far as I am concerned, that this must necessarily include not only our friends of the Roman Catholic Church, but also our friends of the Jewish faith; and if the Buddhists proliferate, maybe some Buddhist representative as well in time to come, to say nothing of Islam. But what at the 1016 moment is obvious to me is that we can seek to find such people as can be, to a certain extent, representative of the faith they hold to be put into your Lordships' House on a personal basis. I cannot think that it would be possible to put them on a corporative basis; and though I have personally toyed with the idea of those who would be elected to serve because they represented responsible institutions in the community, I am sure on reflection that it would be far better to proceed on a personal basis and leave it at that.
If your Lordships are left in any doubt as to the desirability of change, I would commend you to what has been to me, and I am sure to your Lordships, the overwhelming sense that some kind of change is required, and that things as they are cannot he allowed to continue as they are. If that is so, then I think an objective reading of the White Paper yields one quite simple result: that here is a proposal, or a series of proposals, which may need amending in Committee when the Bill is produced, but which in substance represents a way forward, engenders hope and gives an earnest of much better things to come. For that reason, I support the White Paper.
§ 11.19 p.m.
My Lords, the first thing I want to say is that I should not have liked to be a member of the Committee which produced the White Paper that we are debating this evening. I feel that great credit is due to those from the Right and the Left Wing of politics who have compromised in this respect. I think it was a very difficult situation. The first thing I noticed when I looked at the White Paper was that the Government say that both Houses have need of each other. I hope that, when this reform has gone through, after the debate this evening, and when the Bill has gone through the two Houses, the Commons and the Lords will be able to talk to each other again. As I see it, there is a need for both Houses. The world looks at the British politician and the world looks at the Parliament of this country, and I am sure that if we can come together again and compromise and get reform through we shall continue to perform a great service for the public of this country and for the world.
1017 In the last Session a tremendous amount of work went through this House. I have been a Member of this House for only approximately 18 to 19 months. But in my view there can be no doubt that the hereditary Peers plus the Life Peers did great service in performing the mammoth task of getting through the work which was put before them. But I feel that there is room for change: a change to bring new blood into this House to help the strains that go on with such a mammoth task. Last summer we dealt with many Bills, in addition to the tremendous Transport Bill. To take such a strain we could have new life blood in this House, and it would probably make the task less difficult for us.
I also feel the difficulty of the hereditary system as it stands to-day. I remember well 18 or 19 months ago when I inherited the title from my noble father. I suddenly found myself an hereditary Peer with a seat here and with the responsibilities of a job and the responsibilities of one's country which entailed coming to your Lordships' House. I also knew the difficulty concerning one's pocket. The difficulty was to balance giving one's full time or only part time to one's job with giving one's full time to this House for four guineas a day. One could not possibly do the latter.
This afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd (I think it was), said that times had changed and that the estates had gone. My estate went in 1920 and there was nothing left of the till. Therefore, how can an hereditary Peer go on giving absolutely 100 per cent. loyal service to this House when in fact he is committed to earning his living in his job? I am in industry, in sales. I have been in sales for 12 years. I started in the mill. One cannot possibly divide one's loyalties, as I see it, between the responsibility towards one's country and the responsibility towards one's job. It is impossible. I do not see that it can be done. Having been in industry, I have seen a certain amount of change, and reform or progress is nothing new to me. I have been working on machines, five cutters in the mill, when somebody has come along, a foreman or manager, and wanted a machine moved. It has been working perfectly well up to that moment in that position. One cannot 1018 see the reason why it has to be moved, but it is moved. Patience and time will tell even with this House, but progress and change would do good. I am certain of this.
My Lords, I am probably doing myself out of a job in this House, but if it is for the benefit of the country then that must be considered. We are living with many more millions of people in this country, and with a vast industrial revolution going on. We need to keep up with everything, and we in this great Chamber, which has stood for so many years, producing great debates and an enormous amount of help for the public and the world, cannot stand still and hope that the world will go on. it cannot be done. We must think of the future. I feel that to become a Life Peer would be a de-grading. To come to this House 100 per cent. of one's time—and I stress that, because 331 per cent. is nonsense—one must be able to put one's full time into the job. I find this a difficult and sad moment for a hereditary Peer. It is hard to look to the future and say, "I have a son who is not going to inherit this great Seat which his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather have held before him", but if it is good for the country then let us do it.
Not being a technical Parliamentarian and not having been here long enough, I cannot see that all the recommendations in the White Paper will work; but the experts tell me that they will and I am prepared to accept their word to a certain extent. However, I think it is quite wrong to set 72 years of age as the retirement age from this House. I am only a junior Member, but in my view people of 72 are still young and full of wisdom and experience. This House has been brought up to its present standard by the older generation. I should loathe to see many noble Lords here disappear at the stroke of a pen, and I believe that bringing in the number that is required might well result in the standard of this House going down. In America, and indeed all over the world, this House is looked upon as a great debating Chamber, and I beg your Lordships not to let that standard fall. Above all, we should be wary of making 72 the age of retirement. I do not believe it 1019 should be anywhere near that; wisdom and experience cannot be bought.
Finally, may I say that during the last year when I have been in the House I have been worried by the Party political battle that has been going on. In my view it is wrong to have Party politics in this House, and I hope that when all this is arranged the arguments can be put to one side and this House can be saved from Party politics. Then we can get on with the job which is set before us. Do not let us lower our sights by descending to Party politics.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LINDSEY AND ABINGDON
My Lords, from a personaI point of view the most important observation I have made to date, since I became a Member of your Lordships' House, is that I am a glutton for punishment so far as time is concerned. On the few occasions that I have ventured to express my views I seem to have chosen a debate such as that on Rhodesia, or Stansted, and I end up swaying on my feet in the early hours of the morning speaking on this White Paper.
As the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, pointed out, it has been a tradition of this House not to repeat what has already been said. Being the fifty-fifth speaker on the second day of this debate I find it is impossible to follow this tradition. However, I should like to make one or two observations on the White Paper. Having read both sections—that is to say, the background to reform and the proposals for reform—my immediate reaction was that it was rubbish, and if that is what they call "reform" they should abolish the whole thing and stop wasting important people's time. It was not reactionary enough, so far as I was concerned.
Realising that a fully elected Upper Chamber would not be acceptable to Members of another place, I would ask, why not have a two-tier system consisting of half the Members being elected on a regional representative basis, and not necessarily members of the Peerage, and the other half nominated? This 1020 would do away, to some extent, with the Prime Minister's patronage, objection to which has been voiced in both Houses of Parliament. It was not until I read Appendix I of the White Paper that my views began to change. All previous attempts at reform have failed, and this one comes nearest to an acceptable formula in the second half of the 20th century. Both the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and my noble friend Lord Jellicoe further convinced me that this was an opportunity not to be thrown away. However, I still have not been converted by the arguments that nomination will not increase patronage, and wonder whether this is not just another stepping-stone to a further reform that will end in one-Chamber government, which would be intolerable to the Constitution of this country.
Finally, I should like to quote the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who said, "What is the hurry?" As an hereditary Peer, I find it unacceptable to receive a Writ of Summons and take an oath for the duration of a Parliament and then three-quarters of the way through that period be told, "You are out, as far as voting is concerned". Not that that particularly worries me, because in my view a substitute vote at a General Election would have far more effect than any vote I have at the present moment in this House. I do not believe that this House as at present constituted will embarrass the present Government during its last years of office. With those reservations, my inclination is to support the Government's proposals.
§ 11.32 p.m.
§ LORD CACCIA
My Lords, as a Life Peer of recent creation, I shall detain your Lordships for only a few minutes and speak largely from the point of view of a diplomatist with some experience of Second Chambers in other countries as well as our own. As an historical aside, I hope also that it may not be thought altogether out of place for me to mention that this is not the first time that my own family have been involved in debate, dispute and decision concerning the hereditary principle and political power. In the Florentine Republic at the end of the 13th century the so-called 1021 "Ordinances of Justices" of 1293 made hereditary title a bar to participation in any aspects of politics. True, this was later circumvented and in the end set aside; yet this historic example illustrates that the problem of the extent to which political power shall be hereditary is not confined to this country or this age. Over many centuries measures have been adopted elsewhere to sever all such links.
Of course, as a Life Peer I am not now directly involved in this aspect of the White Paper's proposals, but may I just say that, for my own part, I have no objection of principle in all times and places to an hereditary Peerage with some measure of political power. On the contrary, the question is: what time, what place? And here and now my own view is that this is not acceptable in England. It may not always remain so, and in the past these phases have come and gone, in Florence and elsewhere. Indeed, recent discoveries in the field of genetics may even in coming centuries lead to a demand that none should participate in a Second Chamber unless they have by heredity an approved D.N.A. rating. But whatever lies ahead, I myself would not quarrel with those who argue that the present climate of public opinion in this country will not permit any measure of political power to an hereditary Second Chamber in Westminster.
The question then arises: what degree of power will be allowed here and now to any such Second Chamber? The existing state of this House, with all its unquestioned tolerance, patience, wisdom, which must impress any newcomer, is, with respect, at the same time unimpressive, whether judged by its own remaining capabilities or by comparison with the effectiveness of Second Chambers in other countries. So far as legislation is concerned, we have some residual constitutional powers which we hesitate to use, and some debating possibilities which are usually outmatched by a letter to The Times or a television appearance, if impact on Government or people is sought. Why then have a Second Chamber at all? For myself, I would not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, earlier to-day. I think the arguments deployed by other noble Lords are conclusive against single-Chamber government here, or, from my experience 1022 elsewhere, in any other free society of similar complexity. We have tried it once for a while under Cromwell, and to my book we should not do so again, any more than we should dabble in any form of dictatorship, Cromwellian or otherwise.
So I see the choice as between this Chamber with its present powers, or a Chamber based on the White Paper. Of the two I prefer the latter, with all its limitations, because such a Chamber would presumably be ready to use its powers, and not like the present, shy to show its few remaining teet1-. For myself, I should hope that a wise exercise of such powers might induce Governments and people later to extend the authority of the Second Chamber. I should also hope that the most controversial aspect of the present proposals—that is, nomination by the Prime Minister of the day—would be looked at again in due course. A development of regionalism might enable a Second Chamber to be based, like the Senate of the United States, on an elective principle and for much longer terms than the House of Commons. I have heard various things said in disparagement of the Senate of the United States, and I should like here to record my own view: that as an informed body with power, it exercises that power in that vast American Continent with skill and persistence in the interests of that country.
That and other such proposals may well be thought worthy of consideration later. But if we wait for them nothing will be done, and we shall just teeter on as we are, with hope deferred. I could not be for that; and, to cut this story short, I prefer these proposals now to the chance of something better at a later date, and if it comes to a Division I shall vote for this Motion.
§ 11.40 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, we are into the last lap, and before the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, moves the adjournment of the debate I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. But I feel that it is incumbent upon me, as I think the fifty-seventh speaker in the debate and the last speaker from this side of the House, to say something about the two most interesting and 1023 extremely distinguished maiden speeches—
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
Would the noble Lord forgive me? Perhaps he is not aware that I am going to speak after him.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, to continue, with the correction that I shall not be the last one to speak from these Benches, I should like to say this of the two most distinguished maiden speeches this afternoon. Especially for the younger element in your Lordships' House, the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, was extraordinarily interesting. Your Lordships may be aware that the noble Earl's father's name is recorded on the Roll of Honour in the Royal Gallery. He was posthumously awarded the highest award for gallantry awarded by the Sovereign for his action in the Western Desert. I feel sure that the whole House takes enormous pride in welcoming his son to your Lordships' House.
I should also like to say this in regard to the noble Viscount, Lord Long. whose late father I used to sit next to on the Back Benches. He was no less than the eighty-sixth member of his family to represent either a borough or division or some part of the nation in Parliament. This, I think, is probably a record, taking together representation in both Chambers. This really is an astonishing record of service in Parliament, and I commend it to your Lordships as an example of public service over the centuries and, to a wide extent, a justification for some degree of currency being given to the hereditary principle.
I feel that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his patience in listening to so much of this debate and, further, for listening to my trifling remarks as the last but one speaker from these Benches. Just to emphasise the extraordinarily difficult task of the Chairman of the Committee, I should like to quote not from this White Paper, not from the 1948 White Paper, but from the 1918 White Paper, the Preamble to which starts off with the words, "Dear Prime Minister". In that Preamble Lord Bryce, who was of course the Chairman of the second Chamber Conference referred to in Command Paper 9038 pre- 1024 sented in April, 1918—incidentally, priced at 3d.; our present one is priced at 3s. 6d.—said this:The problems we had to deal with presented difficulties which can hardly be appreciated except by those who have steadily applied themselves to a prolonged study of the issues involved".The issues involved were so multifarious, so deep and so difficult that they had to publish as Part II a minority Report, in which the recommendations of a minority of the Conference, consisting of two noble Lords, Lord Loreburn and Lord Sydenham, and one Member of the House of Commons, a Mr. Scanlon—that name has a familiar ring about it !—differed from the majority.
But, my Lords, the Bryce Report was published 13 years before I was born, and I prefer to seek more contemporary sources of information to set beside the White Paper. I would commend most heartily to your Lordships the views of the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth, whose vast experience in public affairs and in Ministerial high office in six Governments I feel bears weighty consideration in this matter. And not only weight, because his very human approach to so many subjects, and his insight in so many matters, was a subject of great delight to all of us who knew him and appreciated the love and the great affection in which he held this House, although he came here, we all know, with great reluctance.
I would quote from Lord Morrison's book, Government and Parliament, the second edition, page 194, line 9, where he says:The fact that the House of Lords has many irrational features is not, in itself, fatal in British eyes for we have a capacity for making the irrational work, and if a thing works. we tend to like it, or at any rate to put up with it.Further down the same page he said:The very irrationality of the composition of the House of Lords and its quaintness are safeguards for our modern British democracy.My Lords, not only do I heartily concur with those views, but most especially I concur with the view of my noble friend Lord Denham, in his most interesting speech yesterday, in which he asked the question:Is a seat in this House to be regarded as a reward for services rendered, or as an opportunity for services to come?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th November. 1968, col. 700.]1025 My Lords, I stand before your Lordships as an apprentice in the first phase of the development of what my noble friend took to be the life in your Lordships' House of a hereditary Peer. I have been here for six years, and previous to that I exercised the privilege, known only to hereditary Members, to sit on the steps of the Throne, which I did for a period of 11 years.
I also commend to your Lordships the views that we have heard to-day from my noble friend Lord Mansfield. Lord Mansfield had, and has, a very much tighter grasp of the subject than I. When I read in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, delivered on October 30 last year, that your Lordships' House was to be revised and the hereditary element eliminated, I said to myself: "This is not language which is used in Western Europe; it is the language used on the far side of the Iron Curtain". This is language of liquidation, the liquidation of reactionary elements, and I feel that it is not a method by which one should introduce a major reform to the Electorate. It is the first plank in what I consider to be a road of suspicion on which I tread. I tread this suspicious road because I believe that part of the principles which have guided Her Majesty's Government has been the dislike of the hereditary element. I have to say this because I believe it to be true.
I feel that the White Paper provides, in effect, for the dismantling of the whole hereditary principle; the dismantling of what my noble friend Lord Denham, described as the "bridge". He was describing Isaac Newton's bridge, but to continue his argument I would describe the bridge in a more metaphoric form, the bridge which each of us represents as trustees for the people of this country—the trusteeship which we, the current generation, hold for the successive generations. I cannot believe, even at this late hour, that this matter should be left in this situation. I look forward tomorrow to the final speeches, most especially to those by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the House. I greatly fear that I shall not be able to support the Government, but I await with interest tomorrow's debate.
§ 11.50 p.m.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long. I started this debate firmly convinced that the White Paper was good in all its respects. I have sat through as much of the debate as I can and have now come to the conclusion—I came to it late last night—that in its present form the White Paper will not create a Chamber which will give the country the best service in the years to come. That sounds rather blunt, but we are galloping. The hereditary Peers in some form or another have been in existence for some 1,200 years in the Legislature of this country, and the Life Peers have been in existence for only ten years.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord and commend to him Mr. Enoch Powell's book? He will find that he is not entirely right.
§ LoRD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, although I take with great respect. those remarks from the Leader of the House, I hesitate to take his advice. Whatever it may he, we are going quickly. We have in the last ten years had life Peers, and we are now to find the hereditary Peers snuffed out in a generation. This House will then consist entirely a Life Peers with very little power. It is significant that in future it will be difficult to get people to sit in this House, 'with little power and with no opportunity to pass on their inheritance to anybody else, and with all the frustrations that work in this House involves, particularly for people who have been active in other fields of life. I ask the Government most seriously to consider that in this stodge of the Life Peerage, if I may be so hold as to call it that, we have a little of the leaven of the hereditary Peerage left a little longer until we see how the system works. We all know that to allow the hereditary Peers to inherit will not affect the numbers of people who are allowed to vote and therefore will not affect one of the main purposes of the Bill. It would seem to me that it is rushing things to chop off an hereditary Peerage at this stage, when it is quite possible that it will provide the balance needed by this House in the future.
§ 11.54 p.m.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, I intervene to apologise for intervening, and I intervene because I have to apologise for not being in my place earlier. I am sure that everything I intend to say has been said over and over again. I have only one word for the Front Bench and for my noble Leader. We have been told throughout this debate that what has been said in this House will be taken into consideration in determining the nature of the Bill. There is only one way in which the Government, or my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, or my noble friend the Leader of the House can take into account the happenings over the last two days and the 105 speeches. It is to feed them into the Ministry of Defence computer.
I should like to give my noble Leader a retrieval word. It is the emphasis, repeated here over and over again, on the need to get into this House a younger element. For me—and I support the Motion—it seems that there must be some element of imagination left which will contrive to see, whatever we have measured in terms of non-attendance of hereditary Peers, that somehow two generations of thinking, between which there is an increasing gap, are reconciled. One cannot reconcile them by condemning—and I use that word advisedly—people of 30 or the early 40s to become Life Peers. I do not know how, by any system of election or selection, you can determine what a man is going to be at 60 or 70 in terms of a commitment. Therefore, we must find some way in which appointment to this House will reflect, and reflect very importantly, the qualities of the two generations—the wisdom of one and the inspiration of the other.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.